Michael Bay may be best known for five Transformers movies – even if he didn’t put enough care and attention than he did with his other work – you get the sense that Bay feels more passionate towards the smaller films that he made in between and after the ones where robots were hitting each other. Considering how problematic those other films were, from Pain & Gain to Netflix’s 6 Underground usually fall into the director’s indulgence of explosions and inconsistent tones, they have more personality and Bay can direct action, even if you may not be on board with Bayhem.
Based on the 2005 Danish film of the same name, the Los Angeles-based Ambulance centers on war veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is desperately in need of money for his wife’s surgery. Reaching out to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), Will gets talked into a bank heist where if they succeed, they will be set for life. However, despite careful planning, the heist goes awry, leaving most of the robbers dead and the two brothers hijacking an ambulance with EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza González) on board, who is treating an injured cop.
Originally set to be directed by Philip Noyce, who was replaced by a few other directors before eventually going to Bay – who was actually the first choice to direct this remake – Ambulance does seem like perfect territory for the filmmaker, who revels in car chases and has used the streets of L.A. as his own destructive playground. Given its simple premise of its few main cast members driving one vehicle for the most of the film – evoking Jan de Bont’s Speed – this suggests a smaller action film than what we expect from Bay, even though the trailer showcases his trademark explosive sensibilities.
Although this is written by Chris Fedak, you do wonder how much of Bay’s influence went into the script, with many of his cast improvising all over the place, leading to moments of comedy that don’t always land and even getting dangerously close to stereotype. However, what is most surprising about Bay’s approach to storytelling here is how restrained he is, as we don’t even get an action sequence in the first fifteen minutes. Instead, we get a glimpse of who are the characters are before the chaos ensues, including two cops who references Bay’s own work such as Bad Boys and The Rock.
The film may juggle a lot of characters, but the emotional core is the antagonism between the three leads. On the one hand, you have the brotherly banter between Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II, the former of which continues to steal the show when he plays roles that are nasty and manipulative. And then you have the third wheel that is Eiza González’s Cam, who stands her ground in a situation she hasn’t confronted before and shows both a feistiness and sympathy towards the two brothers.
Going back to the Speed influence, this actually works when it comes to the frenetic energy that you expect from Bay, with characters constantly at each other’s throats due to this ongoing chase that dominates the majority of the running time. Bay’s action can be overwhelming as due to the quick editing, you never get a sense of geography, but you do get the sense of a chaotic feeling, from the intense sweaty closeups of actors to the over-usage of drone cameras flying through Los Angeles. Bay remains his typical self, but he uses buildup and momentum that helps motivate the OTT set-pieces.
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