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You’ve got to hand it to director Michael Bay: He certainly sticks to his cinematic wheelhouse. The filmmaker’s high-octane visual style is on ample display in his latest thriller, which makes his earlier efforts seem decaffeinated by comparison. A decently premised B-movie stretched out to an interminable 136 minutes, Ambulance maintains such a frenetic pace from beginning to end that it ultimately feels exhausting, and not in a good way.
Resembling a cross between Speed and Heat, the film (a remake of a 2005 Danish thriller of the same name) mainly depicts the aftermath of a Los Angeles bank robbery gone wrong. The chief perpetrators are Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), the sort of endlessly wisecracking, live-wire bad guy seen only in movies, and his adoptive brother Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a decorated Afghan War veteran and devoted family man who’s only agreed to participate because he needs $231,000 to pay for his wife’s experimental cancer surgery.
Release date: Friday, April 8
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza Gonzalez, Moses Ingram, Jackson White, Cedrick Sanders, Garrett Dillahunt, Keir O'Donnell, A Martinez
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter: Chris FedakRated R, 2 hours 16 minutes
The robbery goes awry because of the unexpected arrival of a lovestruck, rookie police officer, Zach (Jackson Sharp), who cluelessly interrupts the larcenous proceedings to ask out a bank teller he’s had his eye on. Despite Danny’s quick thinking, Zach soon figures out he’s blundered into an ongoing crime, and the resulting shootout between the gang and police officers who’ve arrived on the scene leaves a very high body count.
In all the confusion, Danny and Will manage to escape by hijacking an ambulance that has arrived to transport the critically injured Zach to the hospital. Taking a tough-as-nails female EMT (Eiza Gonzalez, Baby Driver) and a barely conscious Zach hostage, the two make a desperate attempt to evade seemingly every police car in Los Angeles pursuing them under the supervision of an eccentric LAPD captain (Garret Dillahunt), who’s brought his giant-sized Mastiff with him. (The pooch is played by Bay’s real-life dog, who gives the only understated performance in the film. His name is Nitro, because, what else?)
Most of the bloated running time is concerned with the resulting high-speed vehicular and helicopter chase taking place all over the city’s streets and freeways, with more than one character ominously pointing out the impending arrival of rush hour. Unfortunately, as Ambulance soon demonstrates, car chases become less and less engrossing the more they’re dragged out. While the one here is staged in often exciting fashion (and, in more ways than one, resembles the classic chase in To Live and Die in L.A.), it goes on for so long that you begin desperately hoping for a tire blow-out.
It doesn’t help that the increasingly ludicrous proceedings include major surgery performed on the cop by the plucky EMT, aided by the instructions of Facetiming trauma surgeons delivered from a golf course; Will donating his blood even while he’s driving; and a fistfight between the two brothers that occurs mid-chase.
Not that the film is meant to be taken seriously, as evidenced by the winking in-jokes to Bay’s oeuvre, including one of the characters quoting from The Rock and another announcing, “We go in tandem, like Bad Boys.” The attempted witticisms in the screenplay by Chris Fedak (creator of such television series as Chuck and Prodigal Son) mostly fall flat, such as a frustrated Danny’s outburst, “The way people drive in this city!” And if the police captain’s line “These sons of bitches are about to have a really bad day” impresses you, you just haven’t seen enough cop movies.
It’s not just the action sequences that are frantically staged, it’s everything. Bay even shoots dialogue scenes in the same fashion, with the camera flying around as if it’s having a nervous breakdown and enough edits for a dozen Step Up movies. And he uses so many aerial shots it’s a wonder there was a drone left in Hollywood.
Abdul-Mateen II and Gonzalez manage to deliver solid performances amid all the violent mayhem, their characters at least vaguely resembling human beings. But like the film itself, Gyllenhaal starts out over-the-top and only gets increasingly manic from there, becoming more and more irritating along the way (he displayed the same unmodulated intensity in the recent The Guilty, but at least in that he had strong material to work with).
At a lean, mean 90 minutes or so, Ambulance might have been a guilty pleasure. Instead, it’s the sort of cinematic thrill ride so overstuffed that you can’t wait for it to be over.
Production companies: Endeavor Content, Bay Films, New Republic Pictures, Project X Entertainment
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Eiza Gonzalez, Moses Ingram, Jackson White, Cedrick Sanders, Garrett Dillahunt, Keir O'Donnell, A Martinez
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter: Chris Fedak
Producers: Michael Bay, Ian Bryce, Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt
Executive producers: Michael Kase, Mark Moran
Director of photography: Roberto De Angelis
Production designer: Karen Frick
Editor: Pietro Scalia
Costume designer: Lisa Nora Lovaas
Composer: Lorna Balfe
Casting: Denise Chamian
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