There are explosions galore as Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II play bank robbers on the run in Ambulance, the latest bombastic action offering from Michael Bay
Let’s cut straight to the chase, no one is going into a Michael Bay film expecting Oscar bait or nuanced story telling; you’re either in the mood for car chases, shoot outs and ridiculously over the top explosions or you’ve picked the wrong film. But for those who know what they’re looking for the question remains, how does the latest slice of Bayhem measure up to your old favourite silly action flicks? As a massive fan of all the most absurd action films of the 1990s, I can happily report that Ambulance is the best film Michael Bay has made in 20 years.
Ambulance stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Danny and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Will, two brothers who attempt a high stakes bank robbery that ends poorly. Desperate and on the run, they hijack an ambulance and kidnap paramedic Cam (Baby Driver’s Eiza Gonzalez) and an injured cop as insurance, before leading the authorities on a high stakes car chase through Los Angeles. What follows is over 2 hours of pretty much non-stop car chase action, and if you’re looking for something a little more physics abiding than the even more ridiculous Fast and Furious franchise then this may be the film for you.
Ambulance ticks all of the stereotypcial car chase boxes: hitting a fruit stand? Check. Smashing into those barrels of water that are always on the freeway in American movies? Check. A protracted sequence where they race down the LA river pursued by improbably low helicopters? Check. Everything blowing up? Check, check and double check. Honestly, it’s got it all, and thanks to Bay’s trademark 360 degree gimbal shots and some innovative aerial cinematography, it’s all captured with impressive clarity and detail.
The acting is, well, it’s decent, I guess. Everyone is doing the best they can with what is frankly a bit of a ridiculous script. Jake Gyllenhaal is channelling his inner Nicholas Cage as Caster Troy in Face/Off, switching in the blink of an eye between charming smooth talker and frothing lunatic. Abdul-Mateen II and Gonzalez get rather less fun roles, forced to play it straight as the stereotypical ‘good guy forced to do bad things’ and the ‘gorgeous but prickly’ heroine respectively.
If you’re a nitpicker for authenticity, or you know, even mild intelligence then you may find Ambulance quite frustrating. The criminals are stupid, their plan is stupid, the cops and their tactics are equally stupid, the medical scenes unbelievable. Even just the logic of it is remarkably off; as the two robbers frequently try to avoid killing their kidnapped cop in order to avoid a murder wrap, whilst simultaneously blowing up or shooting half the LAPD during the chase. There’s absolutely no surprises within the story, but again, we know what we let ourselves in for right? At least in choosing to centre on ‘the bad guys’ rather than the heroes this is sort of a fresh film for Bay.
If all of this sounds negative, it’s just because I want audiences to understand what they are letting themselves in for – true ‘Bayhem’ as the director himself puts it. But for me it’s absolutely possible for a film to be patently ridiculous and still be an enjoyable watch. And happily, Ambulance is an example of this.
Since bursting on to the scene with Bad Boys in 1995, countless directors and studios have tried to replicate Michael Bay and the peak of the 1990s over the top action movie scene; the bickering buddy cops, the unhinged genius bad guys, the penchant for anything and everything to explode when so much as lightly tapped by a car – for me nothing will ever top the golden Nicholas Cage trilogy of Con Air, The Rock and Face/Off – but few manage to have the same audience impact. Ambulance may be overlong and unoriginal, but it ticks all the boxes for this particular brand of popcorn action trash and is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.
Ambulance is Michael Bay’s best film since The Rock. Frenetic energy, Jake Gyllenhaal chewing the scenery and a big ol’ car chase captured in bone crunching detail. What’s not to like?
Ambulance is out in cinemas now