DIRECTOR: Michael Bay

CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt, A Martinez, Keir O’Donnell, Moses Ingram, Wale Folarin, Cedric Sanders, Jackson White, Colin Woodell, Olivia Stambouliah, Jesse Garcia, Victor Gojcaj, Remi Adeleke, Devan Chandler Long, Sheila Houlahan, Chelsea Harris

RUNNING TIME: 136 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: After a bank heist goes wrong, two robbers (Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II) hijack an ambulance that takes them through the city…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

As soon as you hear the name “Michael Bay”, so many things immediately come to mind: explosions, big muscular protagonists, explosions, seedy upskirt angles of scantily-dressed women, explosions, camerawork that will not sit still for any amount of time, explosions, horribly exaggerated humour that often plays on offensive ethnic stereotypes, and maybe just a few more explosions. So when someone like Bay decides to go smaller – at least, in comparison to a lot of his other overblown movies – with something like Ambulance, you’d better sit up and take notice at how the director, for the first time in what feels like a century, actually manages to restain himself in ways you never imagined were possible.

A remake of the Danish action movie of the same name (though how much of the original is left in tact under Bay’s watch is indeterminable, since it’s been reported that Bay never even watched it before making his remake), Ambulance takes place over the course of a single day, beginning with army veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) struggling to get financing for his wife’s experimental surgery that will help both of them raise their infant child. Desperate for money, Will decides to go and seek help from his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), a career criminal who is making final preparations for a bank heist that morning which could net them over $30 million. Reluctantly drawn into the heist, Will witnesses everything go sideways when a cop (Jackson White) stumbles into the robbery in progress, forcing him and Danny to shoot him during their escape. An ambulance is called to the scene, manned by dedicated paramedic Cam Thompson (Eiza González), and the two brothers hijack the vehicle, taking both Cam and the wounded cop hostage. The rest of the film is, basically, the brothers racing the ambulance through the streets of Los Angeles, with the cops hot on their trail, all while Cam tries to do her job and save the cop from succumbing to his injuries.

To give you an understanding of how much Ambulance is perhaps the most restrained that Michael Bay has been in years, his first big explosion doesn’t happen until more than an hour in to the movie. On top of that, the filmmaker – working with a script by Chris Fedak – subsides many of his less desirable qualities early on, from the borderline racist humour to much of the incomprehensible camera work and editing, to even the homoerotic emphases on the main characters’ jacked muscular physiques. It’s as though, by some miracle, Bay finally listened to the feedback presented to the films he’s made over the last couple of decades, and made an actual movie instead of bombarding the audience with deafening noises and unfathomable imagery. As such, most of Bay’s best qualities manage to shine through here way more than in any Transformers sequel or as recently as Netflix’s headache-inducing 6 Underground: the non-stop action, for one, actually serves purpose to the storytelling as it combines the high-octane thrills of Speed with the criminal activity of Heat, and the way much of it is shot allows you to actually get a feel for the tone and the pacing of the situation, without suddenly cutting to something overly stupid in the middle of an intense scene.

You actually do get a sense of the characters’ personalities rather than letting them succumb to all the noise in the back (and fore) ground, whether it’s Jake Gyllenhaal having an absolute blast as this unhinged criminal who’s constantly stressing out in this ambulance for most of the movie, or both Yahya Abdul-Matten II and Eiza González trying to keep a level head as they’re forced to perform some very invasive surgery whilst their vehicle is in constant pursuit from the cops. Even more minor supporting characters, like Garret Dillahunt as the police captain hunting the robbers or Keir O’Donnell as an FBI agent roped into the situation, all get some good character moments that aren’t passed off for cheap comedy (rather mercifully, due to at least one of those characters’ sexuality being revealed in their very first scene) and do add to the growing amount of suspense as the long day drags on. The script certainly does well enough to make you feel for and understand most of these characters, but Bay’s ultimate execution actually seems to respect its characters and story, which is a severe step up from what Bay had devolved into with his last however many number of movies.

That isn’t to say, however, that all Bay-isms are gone completely. Ambulance is still a Michael Bay film through and through, with many of the usual tropes – the constantly-moving camera (now assisted by spinning drone shots), lens flares behind every corner, and at least one or two overly dorky comic relief characters – still present and correct. However, it’s noticeably much less of those annoying attributes this time round, and not portrayed as ugly or as eye-rollingly patriotic as they have been in the past, which again makes all the difference. Sure, it’s one of those plots that doesn’t require you to think a whole lot, largely because there’s so much action being thrown your way that there simply is no time to think, but it’s not an overwhelmingly stupid movie. In fact, it may well be the smartest that Bay has ever been behind the camera: certainly indulging in a number of his familiar trademarks, absolutely, but bestowing upon himself enough restraint to actually let other elements like story and character take greater precedence over what the next big thing to explode will be.

It’s definitely Bay’s strongest movie in a number of years, maybe even since The Rock all those years ago. Although, speaking of which, there are a couple of odd meta moments where characters in this Michael Bay film explicitly mention other Michael Bay movies like The Rock and Bad Boys, which are either wildly self-indulgent calls to attention towards his earlier, or perhaps a subtle hint that Bay is finally returning to the quality of films he initially started out with. Hopefully, it’s the latter.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Ambulance is by far the most restrained that director Michael Bay has been in years, and with its heavier focus on compelling characters and engaging storylines, it might be one of his best as a result.

Ambulance is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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