AMBULANCE is the rare example of a pure, non-stop action movie that is all style AND all storytelling, with such a simple premise of a bank robbery gone wrong in dizzying fashion. This movie rocked my core and totally held my attention for its entire running time and made me give a damn about everyone involved, and is also one of the finest works by filmmaker Michael Bay, an auteur who has had such a varying career over the last few decades.
A remake of a much shorter movie made in Denmark circa 2005 (unseen by me), AMBULANCE is set in the downtown LA core and focuses on two “brothers” Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, most recently known for CANDYMAN) who are planning to rob a downtown LA bank. Not only does this go crazily wrong, but they also run into an ambulance operator named Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), a true workaholic with a lot of chips on her shoulder, and things get even more out of hand when they injure a police officer while the robbery takes place and all are on the same boat…or ambulance.
The angle of AMBULANCE is pretty simple after its setup; once this movie gets going after the robbery runs afoul the movie really never lets up as Bay throws us furiously into the minds of its two brothers and how they are exactly going to get out of it, and how they must adapt along with Cam into getting away with all of this. Even though Danny and Will are doing this robbery, we still care about them and the lengths that they go to in escaping, and Cam herself uses her intelligence and cunning to help the ailing officer, even going all the way to do a “live” surgery via video chat with two surgeons that are playing golf right at the moment. Along with this the amount of many characters coming in and out, double crossings and an escape that feels like it’s playing out in real time.
Michael Bay is a tremendously talented filmmaker and someone I could definitely talk moviemaking “shop” with, even though his filmography has always been up-and down with me. His 1996 gem THE ROCK is one of the finest examples of modern action movies that matched a horrifying premise in such a fashion where I was fascinated with where it would go next while also loving the performances and dialogue. There was a lot I loved about 1998’s ARMAGEDDON and a lot I wish was left on the editing room floor. I like about half of his BAD BOYS movies, and mostly the first one. I tried and tried to admire his TRANSFORMERS movies but couldn’t. There’s the vastly underrated PAIN & GAIN where he sneaks into comedy, and later he sneaks in with the overlooked 13 HOURS which I thought was one of his very best shot features.
AMBULANCE is something that really won’t appeal to everyone, and you also have to be in the right mood for it. Bay’s dizzying editing, shot angles, compositions and especially his drone shots come spiralling at you a mile a minute and even there were a few times where I felt so overwhelmed and even a bit dizzy at times. But then I remembered when my local IMAX theatre told me to close my eyes for a moment when the IMAX feeling became too intense and the moment should pass. Good thing I listened to that advice.
I am constantly reminded that every movie is a case by case basis. I cringe at online arguments about the quality of movies based on their running time and what a movie should and shouldn’t have. I have seen many furiously edited movies that drive me crazy and in another version of AMBULANCE I’d hate this in-your-face style, yet I was addicted to everything throughout and still wishing for more as the movie lets us out of its grip in an air-tight 135 minutes.
About five minutes after my screening, I named this Michael Bay’s “absolute bestest movie” (actual words said by yours truly when I ran into someone I knew at the screening) but after calming down a bit I am placing this in the “as good as” category as his 1996 gem THE ROCK. It’s one that will work on a big screen AND a small one, so definitely track it down and get ready for pure adrenaline.
AMBULANCE is now playing in select theatres and also now available for Digital rental from Apple, Google Play or wherever you digitally rent movies.
Boring Tech Notes: This may have the fastest end-credits I have ever seen in a major studio picture. By the time you rest yourself and stand up from your seats, the credits have ended in just about 90 seconds. Marvel/DC/franchise movies, take note; speed your credits up, get those scenes out and you’ll also make the theatre staff happy.