Ambulance movie review: Michael Bay’s thrill ride
Does characterization work? Not all the time. But is the film fun? Hell, yeah.
Photo: Andrew Cooper/Universal Studios
Ambulance, the latest from director Michael Bay, is a film propelled by the nervous force of will and happy confidence that comes with cocaine use. Lots of cocaine. If you told me that before every pass out shot setup or co-lead Jake Gyllenhaal’s explosive line-reading people on set dove into mountains of cocaine, I’d completely and utterly believe you. That’s exactly the kind of ridiculousness I can take. It deserves far more love than it got at the box office in its opening weekend for showcasing the pleasure principle that too many filmmakers in Hollywood have set aside for jokes. self-aware and broadly connected universes – although I appreciate the Ambulance characters that quote and refer to the old power plants in the bay Bad Boys and The rockmeaning that Bay exists in the universe of her own movie.
Ambulance was dubbed “small” by bay standards due to its average cost of $40 million. For reference, his previous Netflix movie, 6 Underground, starring sensitive ingrown hair Ryan Reynolds, cost $150 million. But don’t let that amount of money fool you Ambulance is nothing less than a deliciously profane, bonkers thrill that puts audience satisfaction above things like common sense and characterization. This is a film designed to satisfy – tease laughter and shock you to a clip. The intensity starts early. Screenwriter Chris Fedak wastes no time; it effectively sets up the crime and the trio of stars that fuel the narrative, relying first on amber-hued childhood flashbacks accompanied by a treacly score, then on the charisma of Gyllenhaal (playing Danny Sharp) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (playing Will Sharp) as adopted brothers from very different sides of the law who share a harrowing adolescence thanks to their psychopathic bank robber father, in whose footsteps the former walks. Will is at the end of his line. A war veteran and father himself, he is desperate for the money to help his wife, Amy (Moses Ingram), pay for experimental treatment for her vaguely defined health issues. He turns to his criminal brother for a job that quickly goes left.
What begins as a secure bank robbery quickly becomes a thrilling chase through the streets of Los Angeles with EMT Cam (Eiza González) trying to keep alive the admittedly annoying cop (Jackson White) whom Will shot in a fit of death. ‘anxiety. The film builds its twists on moments of luck and ingenuity, drawing on a dazzling array of characters – from cartel members Danny relies on to evade authorities to FBI agent Anson Clark (Keir O’ Donnell), with whom Danny went to college after his father pushed him to take courses in criminal profiling to better understand the minds that would one day swarm to thwart him. Ambulance builds his emotional life on the irregular bond between Danny and Will, juxtaposing their differences at every turn. Danny is handsome with a hair-trigger temper. Will is stoic and caring, willing to put his life on the line for his own hostages.
The characterization doesn’t always sing, especially when you record the unnerving elation of the armed forces that anchors the story or the fact that the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen doesn’t always hit the mark. When Cam is introduced, it becomes clear what kind of female character we are up against. She’s a paramedic who can lovingly help a young girl with a fence ray piercing her abdomen, as the whine of metal on metal fills the air, then want to eat enchiladas in the next breath. She’s raw and unadorned in that effortlessly beautiful way expected of actresses in this lineup — relatively young, pretty in a way that seems algorithmically designed — who haven’t yet proven what they can do. Here, she’s sweet when she really needs to be steely. But at its best, Ambulance brims with a visual brilliance that infuses its car crashes, chases, and numerous explosions with fun.
The continued decline of mid-budget films in Hollywood over the past few decades is often lamented, particularly for how integral they can be to developing and refining a star’s image. But much more was lost than that. Consider the wealth of character actors in movies such as Keanu Reeves’ loud action flick Speed to erotic thrillers like The last seduction. Bay and casting director Denise Chamian understand how to build a supporting cast. The film is colorful with a variety of excellent character actors with strong turnout, especially Garret Dillahunt as the cunning police captain Monroe and Olivia Stambouliah as the clever electric lieutenant Dzaghig, whose line-readings elicited a response. enthusiastic audience of my theater. Coupled with the surprisingly high body count, Ambulance hits what it needs to hit: thrills, copious amounts of blood and violence (without relying heavily on shoddy CGI), practical effects, and a genuine interest in giving its characters absolute hell. So when a Birkenstock-wearing thief is decimated, his legs crushed, only for him to look down and ask what happened with the kind of nonchalance of someone acknowledging the pickles were forgotten on his burger , you can’t help but laugh . But your eyes – and the camera, guided by kinetic cinematographer Roberto De Angelis – still fall back on Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen.
As Danny, Gyllenhaal gives off a hypermasculine drag. This is nothing new for him. He’s an actor who really likes to switch between more experimental arthouse fare and big-budget extravaganzas. He’s a tongue-in-cheek, flexible performer who I’ve sincerely enjoyed over the decades, but every time he’s in action of that ilk it’s as if he desperately needs to remind us that he can be a man, rejecting the more feminine or complex dynamics of films such as Wildlife and Enemy, which allow him to be part of a more pluripotent masculinity. Here, Gyllenhaal goes completely masc. In his hands, Danny’s charms quickly turn to selfishness and sharp violence. Still, he’s funny as hell in the role – chewing up sentences, spitting out one-liners, using his physique to seduce people into a state of fear, moving with ecstatic grace. It gives pure and unapologetic gonzo energy. When he says, “It’s not that simple, Will. We’re not the bad guys,” we’re supposed to look at his character with caution. Yet Bay ignores the fact that more than a few in this movie’s audience (myself included) couldn’t care less about the cops. These are the criminals we support as they flout the system and put the middle finger in the air on propriety.
On the other hand, Abdul-Mateen has grappled with a character built with the stoicism, kind heart, and reverence that Bay clearly holds for the armed forces. Casting Abdul-Mateen in the role highlights a host of interrelated issues, namely how black people are forced into systems that support the very fascism and imperialism that limit their lives on the home front. Bay doesn’t struggle with that dynamic. Shit, he doesn’t even realize it’s there. So when it becomes clear that Danny and Will’s fate is either death or prison, the political unease becomes stark. Here is a black man trying to help his family after the government he supported cast him out to end up being part of an even more oppressive system that stains the hands of this country with the blood of countless black people and brown. Watch Abdul-Mateen – whether he sings a song with Gyllenhaal to burn off some of their anxious worry or punches the hell out of his brother on screen with the kind of aplomb that immediately piques the interest of the authorities nipping at their heels – I could I can’t help but wonder what exactly he wants from his career. In the resplendent HBO series watchmen, he plays Doctor Manhattan with a tender heart and prowess. In the stupid emphasis of Aquaman, he plays my perennial favorite, Black Manta, with sneering force. More recently in Matrix Resurrections, he takes a turn on Morpheus who is self-aware and brazenly confident. He’s an actor with supremely lupine physical ingenuity, the kind of performer who walks into the room and easily charms the eye. But what rooms does he want to enter? What heights does he want to reach? Despite his skills and profile, Abdul-Mateen doesn’t consistently take on roles that showcase his power.
But that’s not why you’re reading this review. You wonder, is it Ambulance the kind of fun that’s worth going to the theater? Shit, yeah, it is. Where do I start? With the ecstatic color palette? The shining bow for a car flipped through the air several times as if dancing of its own accord? The pure madness of collisions worked with balletic grace? How about those drone shots? Bay leans into the dizzying joy of aerial drone fire suspended from the precipice of skyscrapers and the tops of other crouching buildings before diving in and following the cataclysmic action unfolding below. This faded visual style is used again and again to great effect. Another fine example of the film’s visual strength? When Danny screams that Will is actually his real brother before unleashing a hail of slow-motion bullets on a cartel boss and his underlings, spinning in a circle to take down their rivals. What else can I say except this: Now it is cinema, baby.