Movie Review: ‘Ambulance’ Saves the Day with Visceral Thrills


Jake Gyllenhaal shares the spotlight with the ambulance. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

LOS ANGELES, March 24 (UPI) — Ambulance, Opening in theaters on April 8, it’s everything you’d expect from a Michael Bay film. This includes spectacular action and outrageous storylines, as well as sometimes grating dialogue and potential caricatures.

Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a Navy veteran who can’t get insurance to cover his wife’s experimental cancer treatment. They also have a newborn, so Will agrees to rob a bank with his brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who he grew up with under a criminal father.

The bank robbery continues south and Will and Danny escape in an ambulance that has arrived to treat a downed officer. Will and Danny take EMT Cam (Eiza Gonzalez) hostage so she can tend to the injured officer while they escape.

The premise, based on the 2005 Danish film paramedic, sets up a garland of complicated, criss-crossing pegs that keep the tension going for more than two hours. Cam tries to escape her captors, lest any member of the public wonder why she’s staying, but Danny nips her in the bud.

Also, Cam is still a paramedic. She is forced to stay and nurse the officer back to health, while Danny and Will desperately want him to live so they don’t become cop killers.

One of the medical procedures outlined in Ambulance is surely not medically valid. But by the same kind of scientific logic that ArmageddonIt’s awesome.

The last time a car chase through Los Angeles was filmed so effectively was Speed. Ambulance is not quite equal to this classic, but it is a favorable comparison.

Speed was also a lighter, simpler film about maintaining a high-speed vehicle. Ambulance is inherently a more complex pursuit as Will and Danny also avoid Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and his police tactics.

The ambulance crashes through the debris-strewn streets avoiding the police. The looming threat of rush hour never really pays off in added complications, but everything else does.

Bay’s visual style was revolutionary during the MTV era and translated into feature films. Not content to rest on his laurels, Bay pushes his signature style to great effect in Ambulance.

Bay has always preferred low angles, but some shots of the bank robbery practically have the ground camera staring at Gyllenhaal. What must be drone shots hovering overhead will flip in the air above the city.

Gyllenhaal plays Danny as a charming point guard who can be ruthless in getting the job done. He breaks down during the chase and ends up panicking.

Bay always likes characters yelling at each other, and they yell throughout the action. Mateen and Gonzalez are up to the task.

Cam is a capable paramedic, so it’s a shame that her brief character development still defines her in terms of romantic relationships, but otherwise the film recognizes her strengths on the job.

This is the first time Bay has included self-referential dialogue in his films as the characters quote Sean Connery in The rock and reference Bad Boys. It works better than some of the low humor from previous films.

Ambulance is mostly free of the more extreme cartoons of Armageddon and the Transformers movies. Most entertaining is an interrupted FBI agent in couples therapy with her husband.

Ambulance hangs around a bit with more crime gangs than Danny and Will encounter. It’s consistent with the over-the-top genre, but can be a little exhausting at this point in the film.

Corn, Ambulance moves so quickly that it efficiently traverses all minor gaps in service of its mega hunt. Bay promises a wild day compressed into just over two hours, and Ambulance keeps that promise.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a Los Angeles-based UPI entertainment writer. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Learn more about his work in Entertainment.

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