Hollywood blockbuster action films need more than being loud, busy, and bombastic these days, and Michael Bay’s latest film “Ambulance” fails to do that despite all the sound and the fury hurled at us. While it is a little better than his recent horrible Transformers flicks, the movie, which is actually the remake of the 2005 Danish film of the same name, does not have much substance to justify its relentless serving of crashes and bangs, and we only get more tired and exhausted without much fun or excitement around the time when its titular vehicle eventually arrives at its final destination.
After the overtly sentimental opening scene, the movie delves straight into how things have been bad for Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an ex-marine who has desperately tried to find any possible way to get the money for his very ill wife’s medical treatment. When his latest attempt is failed, he goes straight to his criminal half-brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) for getting any help from him, and Danny happens to need one more man for his latest criminal operation. He and a bunch of accomplices are going to rob the federal bank in LA, and Will may get a lot more than he wants if he participates in this criminal operation right now.
Will naturally hesitates at first, but he eventually accepts Danny’s suggestion, and it looks like everything will go well for them and their accomplices around the time when they arrive at the bank. Besides, all he has to do is holding his gun at those terrified bank employees while Danny and his accomplices quickly take all the cash in the bank.
Of course, the situation later gets worse as it turns out that there is already a special police unit waiting for them from the very beginning, and what logically follows next is a big shootout sequence where many characters shoot here and there. Watching this sequence, I was certainly reminded of the similar sequence in Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995), but I only observed it without much care or attention. As the movie juggles so many shots in a very scattershot manner, we are often lost in chaos and confusion without getting any sense of direction or tension, and that made me reflect more on why Mann is a much better action movie director than Bay.
Danny and Will manage to escape from the scene after hijacking an ambulance which arrives there first, but there is one problem. There is a seriously injured police officer in the ambulance, and they must cooperate with a young female paramedic named Cam (Eiza González) for not having that injured police officer die, in addition to trying to evade the ongoing pursuit of LAPD and FBI. While Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) is quite determined to catch both Will and Danny by any means necessary, FBI Agent Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell) tries to handle the situation as reasonably as possible because more casualties is the last thing he wants.
Once its several main characters are introduced and then established, the movie serves us one vehicle chase sequence after another as Danny and Will frantically drive the ambulance here and there around the city. We surely behold lots of vehicles smashed or overturned on the screen, and I must confess that I was a bit amused by a brief moment which can be regarded as an equivalent to a certain movie cliché involved with fruit carts.
During these and many other intense scenes in the film, Bay and his crew members put lots of efforts on the screen for grabbing our attention from the beginning to the end, but most of their efforts are rather distracting without contributing much to the story. Due to the frantically choppy editing, my attention was frequently disrupted, so many of vehicle chase sequences did not feel that particularly impactful to me. Sure, these sequences feel a bit more realistic than all the forgettable robot action scenes in those Transformers flicks, but they are merely loud and busy without generating much narrative momentum in my humble opinion.
Above all, the movie is frequently hampered by its weak story and shallow characterization. While Danny is no more than a shrill and unstable thug, Will gets a bit of sympathy from us as a good man who is trapped by his wrong choice, but he does not have enough human depth to engage us, and the same thing can be said about Cam and several other substantial main characters in the film. Sure, she is your average seasoned professional, but that is all for us to know, and we are not so surprised what she does during her last scene in the film
The main performers of the film try their best with their respective roles. Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II try to play as straight as possible throughout the film, but this is not exactly their career highpoint, but I would rather recommend Antoine Fuqua’s recent Netflix film “The Guilty” (2021), which is incidentally also the remake of a Danish film, if you want to see Gyllenhaal being more effectively intense. In case of Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt, and Keir O’Donnell, they manage to leave some impression despite their underwritten parts, and González is especially convincing when her character has no choice but to do much more than she is qualified to do at one point.
To my relief, “Ambulance” is not as horrible as those Transformers flicks, but I still cannot help but wonder whether it could be better if it were directed by, say, late Tony Scott. Sure, I sort of admire that Bay is still working as usual while not changed much in terms of style and direction, but that is the only nice thing I can say about him and most of his movies now, and I am already ready to move onto whatever I am going to watch next.