A look back at Michael Bay’s ambulance

Yahya Abdul-Mahteen II and Jake Gullenhaal in the Michael Bay ambulance

Yahya Abdul-Mahteen II and Jake Gullenhaal in the Michael Bay ambulance
photo: Universal images

Michael Bays undeniable technical ability— and for action film fans, his charmingly old-fashioned storytelling sensibility can be utterly seductive, at least when it comes to luring moviegoers to the theaters. More often than not, however, these elements produce a combination of a sugar hangover and buyer’s remorse in viewers. The director’s stylistic onslaught, the organized chaos of his editing, and his overconfidence can intoxicate audiences. Namely, The ambulancethat feels like the first movie written by an algorithm and shot by a drone.

Bay’s latest iteration was reportedly conceived as a comparatively low-budget COVID-era time pass, a film that restlessly cobbled together core elements of heat and speed against the backdrop of the greater Los Angeles area. But like almost everything else in Bay’s filmography, The ambulance almost immediately exceeds its intended extent, turning a lean and mean high concept retrograde hostage situation into a sprawling, geographically obscure tour of one of the most gridlocked cities in the United States.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mahteen II and Eiza Gonzalez follow in the cherished tradition of Nicolas Cage and John Turturro, Frances McDormand and other “serious” actors who wrestle with the dual impetus of putting in real work while raking in a blockbuster-sized paycheck under the director’s watch. But Bay orchestrates the ensuing chaos as if action cinema – and the realities of crime and crime-fighting – hadn’t evolved after 1989 or 1990.

Abdul Mahteen II (The Matrix Resurrections) stars as Will Sharp, a godly veteran desperate to raise money for life-saving surgery for his wife Amy (Moses Ingram), who won’t be covered by insurance. He asks his adoptive brother Danny (Gyllenhaal) for a loan and is immediately recruited into a bank robbery with the promise of a million-dollar payday at the end. But when a lovestruck cop (Jackson White) sneaks into the building to pursue a bank teller, Danny’s best plans are thrown into chaos when an LAPD special investigation team swarms the compound and Will accidentally shoots one of the cops dead.

When paramedic Cam Thompson (Gonzalez) arrives to provide medical assistance to would-be robbery victims, Will and Danny hijack their ambulance and messily slip away while what appears to be the entire police force chasing them across town. Realizing that the recovering patient in the back of their getaway vehicle is the cop Will shot, the brothers frantically improvise an escape plan in order to keep the money, get Will safely home to his family, and prevent them from being killed the impending death of the police officer to a botch will raid a murder charge.

Based on the 2005 Danish film of the same name, prodigal son and lining Executive producer Chris Fedak’s script loosely aims to capture the heist and its aftermath in real-time, a decision that best serves Will’s impulsiveness to embark on Danny’s clearly lunatic scheme and, seemingly less intentionally, the repeated incompetence of the Police to contain the runaway and arrest ambulance. For a filmmaker who, one might assume, has unequivocal support for members of the military and law enforcement community, Bay paints extremely unflattering pictures of either. These images are only superficially soured by pitting them against stereotypical Mexican criminals, whose ruthless violence makes dimwitted robbers and careless, cocky cops seem smart or thoughtful by comparison.

Yahya Abdul-Mahteen II in Michael Bay's ambulance

Yahya Abdul-Mahteen II in Michael Bay’s ambulance
photo: Universal images

Like Will’s military past, Danny and almost every other character onscreen are defined by a one-sentence description intended to justify and explain the many complexities and contradictions of their behavior, from Danny’s uneven (biologically inherited) sanity to Cam’s cold-blooded medical streak skills under pressure. Behind the camera, Bay first embraces his reputation as a “shooter” and finds a consistency in his Lots of footage in the editorial room. But his increasingly frantic assemblage of dozens (if not hundreds) of camera angles from drones and more traditional hero shots — all of which he seems to love equally — produces a relentless barrage of imagery that overwhelms the viewer rather than pulls him forward. There’s so much of everything coming from all directions at all times that none of it matters – and you get the feeling that’s exactly how Bay wants it.

After roles like Lou Bloom in MothGyllenhaal actually seems well suited for a character like Danny Sharp, When Bay didn’t want these two brothers to have a real emotional bond and neither to be a full-fledged villain. It’s hard to tell if Gyllenhaal actually resisted the character’s sociopathic tendencies or if his portrayal was just edited that way, but the film is betting that viewers will like, care for, or even understand him by the end of the adventure, and loses. Abdul-Mahteen II seems hopelessly overwhelmed by an uninterrupted series of plot developments, each making less sense than the one before, while Gonzalez seems justifiably grateful to have a role in a Michael Bay film starring a medic’s uniform somehow not involved is a bikini.

That is, they anchor an ensemble that, for better or for worse, embraces the absurdity of this scenario along with a sincerity it doesn’t deserve, which ends up undermining the opportunity for tongue-in-cheek fun. On the other hand, this is a world where cops who know a robber’s name, face, and criminal history mean nothing when they destroy dozens of cars and a media circus at the end of a multi-million dollar chase create, just be able to “escape” .

ambulance is Michael Bay, a thrill-packed brawn, testosterone and style. As has happened more often in the past than people – particularly its detractors – like to remember, it’s once again insanely close to being really good. But until the day Bay gets a real script or decides to get out of the way, viewers would best expect to hang on and hope to survive the ride.

https://www.avclub.com/ambulance-review-michael-bay-jake-gyllenhaal-yahya-abdu-1848760479 A look back at Michael Bay’s ambulance

Andrew Schnitker

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