Released: 24th March
Seen: 7th April
Michael Bay is a very specific kind of filmmaker. His name is basically all you need to hear before you know what the film will contain and his films all feature pretty much the same thing, shit blowing up in various ways causing various amounts of carnage (depending on the film rating he’s permitted to have) that all tend to involve characters who we can charitably call one dimensional and a soundtrack designed to make you walk out of the cinema with your ears ringing.
He’s also, at least in this critic’s opinion, not a very good filmmaker who only gets by because he’s pandering to teenage boys’ lowest instincts and treating them like idiots who just want to see shit blow up for no reason. Ambulance is his latest film and dear god he needs a new schtick, or maybe to just retire because he appears to be determined to never learn a single goddamn thing.
Ambulance begins with Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who is in desperate need of money to help his wife who needs some kind of mysterious surgery to help her with the mysterious illness that she has. This surgery will cost $231,000 because even though Will is a veteran and should be fully insured, this isn’t covered because this is America where basic healthcare is complete garbage. So, Will decides to go to the one person who he knows will help him get the money, his adopted brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) who tells Will that all he needs to do is help Danny do a bank heist and he can share in the $32 million that’s on offer.
Because everyone is very stupid and thinks this is a good idea, they do it and everything goes horribly wrong. Someone accidentally shoots a cop who gets put in the back of the titular Ambulance that contains EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza González) and then Danny and Will get in the ambulance, so begins an hour and a half long police chase complete with explosions and stupidity that only goes on for so long because everyone wants to keep the cop alive.
Look, if you’re OK with Michael Bay’s eccentricities as a filmmaker and they don’t bother you at all then you might have fun here, that’s absolutely possible because Ambulance is the most Michael Bay film that ever Michael Bay’d… but, that means that every one of his worst tendencies is turned up to 11 so if any element of his filmmaking style annoys you, it’s going to be turned up to the limit here and piss you the fuck off.
Hope you like shots that never hold still for a single second because someone gave the cameraman 40 shots of espresso and they’re practically a vibrator. Hope you like pointless drone shots because Michael just got a brand new toy that he’s going to use 450 times for no reason other than he thinks it looks cool (he is mistaken). Hope you like editing so bad that you genuinely will have no idea where anyone or anything is meant to be which, in turn, removes all tension from the film.
If someone could introduce Michael Bay to a tripod and the concept of ‘framing a damn shot’ that would be great because they put so much work into these explosions and half the time you can barely catch what’s happening unless they slow the footage down (and even then, it sometimes just looks bad). It’s also just not helping the actors who are giving it their all and you can maybe see half of their faces in any given shot if you’re extra lucky, you know when they aren’t just magically teleporting around every time the camera cuts. It’s not energetic, it’s confusing and at some points almost caused motion sickness. Hell, you could probably make a convincing argument that there wasn’t a single storyboard drawn or shot planned at any point and they just let the cameramen try to capture everything that was happening in the moment… cos if this was planned, that’s a bad plan.
Annoyingly Michael Bay recently came out to say that the big problem with Ambulance was, and I quote “some of the CGI is shit in this movie” and let me tell you right now that he is wrong… or at least I assume he is, there isn’t a moment the camera is held still long enough that you would even notice some bad CGI. You’ll notice the stupid decisions that characters make, like trying to hide an ambulance while painting it neon green, but you’ll never notice bad CGI… ok maybe once where it looks like they might’ve forgotten to put a bullet in a key shot of the film but that could’ve just been my mind atrophying from the stupidity.
The worst part is that Ambulance doesn’t have an awful concept (a concept it took from the french film Ambulancen), hell it’s strong enough that I can see how the thrill of it all will make people overlook the bad parts. It’s a 2-hour long extreme car chase between an ambulance and a bunch of police vehicles, that’s objectively badass. The bank robbery scene has plenty of tension in it (or at least it would if it was shot well), the scenes in the ambulance keep building in extremity to the point where it’s absolutely insane.
The actors are giving it exactly what you hire them to do, Gyllenhaal is born to play crazy conmen who have so much charm that you’ll do anything they say and Yahya has so much raw charm that you root for him no matter what he does. Hell, the two of them as brothers is an objectively great idea that they sell so well that they could do it in any other movie, but they have nothing really to work with in terms of script so it relies so hard on their natural charm which is barely captured on screen.
And yet despite all this, it’s obvious that it doesn’t matter what one critic thinks. Michael Bay is review-proof, he has developed the ability to pass off a complete lack of style as its own style that people still see. He can make a film that looks like it was edited by a blender and shot by tying an iPhone to the top of a jackhammer and hoping for the best and it’ll still have an audience. Ambulance still puts big explosions on-screen, shots are fired, things that resemble jokes are said and if you are able to not think about it at all for even a single solitary second you might enjoy this… but it’s not good,
Ambulance somehow survives on life support, nothing about it really makes sense on any fundamental level and every single frame feels like they shot the rehearsal takes without caring where the camera was pointed. Its style appears to be “Might induce vomiting” and there was no fun had by this reviewer, but Bay’s audience will enjoy it and good on them for that. There are some films that’re bad like this and it’s impossible to understand how anyone could like them, this one… I might not agree with liking it, but I get it.