You know how in a brainstorming session, someone always says “there are no bad ideas?” That’s because “Ambulance” already used them all. Director Michael Bay’s latest ADHD simulator is an incoherent jumble of conflicting themes, indecipherable action, and Jake Gyllenhaal delivering maximum crazyface. My dad kinda loved it. If you thought Bay and company would sensitively handle a film very much centered on a Black man’s violent interaction with a police officer, you have never seen “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” For this, know that you are envied.
The cosmically charismatic Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and the aforementioned maker of faces that are crazy, Jakey G, play Will and Danny Sharp, respectively. They are brothers whose dad was apparently the single most evil bank robber in the history of evil banks. Will broke good and became a marine. Danny followed in the family business and does crimes but is less homicidal than his pops. Maybe. Sometimes. Depends really on the scene and whether “Ambulance” remembers the backstory it gave its characters.
In the most tragically believable moment in the movie, Will’s wife has unspecified very bad cancer, and his military insurance won’t cover her experimental surgery. You know what that means, right? He must leave his dying spouse and newborn baby to do crimes with Danny. Specifically, he reluctantly agrees to participate in the most confusingly shot bank robbery in cinematic history. Somewhere between 5 and 57 thieves are involved. It’s impossible to tell because the film keeps cutting to hyperactive shots of a camera racing up the side of a skyscraper before racing back down again. Whoever told Michael Bay about drone cameras can eat a thousand unplucked cacti. Reader, it is impossible to even tell who is shooting at who and which are cops/criminals. Please don’t take that as a savvy commentary, this film thinks feminism is having the hot nurse be good at her job.
Will and Danny hijack an ambulance transporting a bullet-ridden police officer being cared for by Cam (Eiza González). Cam, Will, and Danny then go on a wild chase that is very much like “Speed.” Sorry, very much like speed, the drug. No theme gets considered for more than a hummingbird’s sneeze. No character is given one single consistent characteristic, other than the fact that Will is good at driving. Hilariously, this point is often repeated out loud by a character at the precise moment Will hits something with the ambulance.
If Chekov still had his gun, he’d have unloaded it in a fit of fury, as the number of plot points with no payoff is arguably the largest collection in one single film. Early on, Will makes a point to tell his wife to arm the house’s alarm, with the film cutting to a deliberate shot of her doing that. Never comes up again. An FBI agent who went to college for several years with Danny shows up. That connection never really comes into play. A huge deal is made about Danny asking his hired help to paint the ambulance as an escape tactic, with a long exchange in which he screams that he needed blue paint, not green. Still don’t know what that was about. There’s like 100 things like this! The cop who got shot was trying to ask a bank teller out, but she’s never heard from again. That cop’s partner goes on a murder rampage without any resolution or fallout.
It’s impossible to know what got butchered in editing and what fell away because the filmmakers have no sense of object permanence. All that can be decisively said is that “Ambulance” is never boring, which I have never used as an insult before but very much mean as one right now. It is exhausting drivel that may accidentally say some spectacularly shitty things about the dynamic of policing but is too preposterously stupid to have done so on purpose. Please know that its inability to intentionally generate offense is the only reason I preferred it to “Morbius.” How dare you make me put Jake Gyllenhaal in the same thought pattern as Jared Leto, Michael Bay? How very much dare you?!
Grade = D
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Kristy Puchko at Mashable says “The ‘nagging wife’ of Bay movies past has been swapped for a ‘nagging gay husband’ in a scene meant to humanize an FBI agent while waving a big pride flag about his sexual orientation. Similarly cringe is the inclusion of a Latino gang whose chief attributes are their ethnic identity and being bloodthirsty.”
Wenlei Ma at News.com.au says “When it comes to doing too much, director Michael Bay is king. If he can destroy 86 cars in a chase scene instead of 53, he will. If he can hold for six seconds longer a slow-motion shot of a character being framed by the sunset, he will. If he can ask Jake Gyllenhaal to be 17 percent more unhinged, he will.”
Collier Jennings at But Why Tho? says “ ‘Ambulance’ will test both its audience’s endurance and patience, as its frantic pace and editing stretch a solid premise to its breaking point.