At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Ambulance “2022”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action Thriller/ Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, Jackson White, Olivia Stambouliah, Moses Ingram, Colin Woodell, Cedric Sanders, A Martinez, Jesse Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Wale Folarin, Devan Chandler Long, Randazzo Marc, Victor Gojcaj, Briella Guiza, Brendan Miller/Runtime: 136 minutes

I think it is safe to say that, despite a lot of my fellow critics’ better attempts, iconic (some might say infamous) film helmer Michael Bay is still permitted by the land of movie magic to helm movies and, as a result, is poked and prodded to keep the world in the know that he can still make a “good film” when he puts his mind to it. I mean this shouldn’t really be such a hot button issue at this time especially when seeing just how much of an influence Bay has had on the action genre altogether. At the same time however, Bay is fairly looked down by a good amount of critics who feel that their cinematic tastes are “purer” than his material. Yet if you look at the man’s filmography from The Rock to 2013’s highly underrated true crime saga Pain and Gain that he made during the middle of his time in Transformer purgatory, there is ample enough evidence to show that the man does have some degree of talent (however small it may have felt for me when watching Transformers 4 or 5). With that in mind, we see that Bay’s newest slice of cinema Ambulance is perhaps his finest to date critical litmus test. By that I mean here is a two-plus hour cinematic car chase that is filled to the brim with the components that have made Bay such an essential cog in the action genre machine….whilst also possessing a few of the things that have made him loathed by the critics and yet I ultimately found myself enjoying this movie. Indeed it may be a flawed ride, but Ambulance is still a fairly well-made, extremely well-performed, and surprisingly empathetic slice of cinema that is riveting from beginning to end and one ride you should definitely check out if given the chance to do so.

The plot is as follows: Ambulance gets underway by introducing us to a man by the name of Will Sharp who isn’t really having the most relaxing morning in the world. This is because, even though our hero is a skilled and decorated military veteran, his job prospects aren’t the best in the world. A problem that is further expounded on by the fact that his loving wife Amy is extremely ill and the not-USAA insurance he is a member of won’t even begin to cover a surgery that would help to treat her and get her on the path to healthy living again. A surgery that, when all is said and done, is going to cost our hero no more and no less than $231,000. Thus, and finding himself driven to desperate measures to try and take care of Amy and their infant son, we see our hero tell his wife a teeny tiny little fib that he is heading out to take part in a job interview when actually he is covertly going to try and contact to his foster brother Danny who is this slice of cinema’s dictionary definition of a “successful career criminal” and who he has been estranged from for quite a while. Yet even though all our hero is wanting from his foster brother is a simple cash loan, we see that Danny instead enthusiastically provides him with a counter-offer. A counter-offer that consists of taking part in a job he has been putting together and that, if successful, will net his foster brother a chunk of a pretty hefty payday in the amount of no more and no less than a solid 32 mil. We soon see that the job in question consists of Will aiding his brother and a crew of three other people in a bank robbery that they all hope will be one of the biggest that Los Angeles has ever witnessed. Thus, and with his back up against the proverbial wall from a financial perspective, we see our main character decide to take part in this scheme that his brother has been cooking up. Yet even though the plan starts out great, we soon see things (of course) start to go downhill thanks to the untimely appearance of two cops who only show up because one is trying to work up the courage to ask out a cute teller that he kinda has a thing for. Things soon go from bad to worse however when an SIS undercover operation is triggered and, in the ensuing chaos, Will and Danny are split up from their criminal cohorts and one of the cops is shot and taken hostage by our dynamic brother duo. A choice that sees our two brothers wind up taking over an ambulance (hence the title of the film) with a skilled and dedicated EMT by the name of Cam onboard. Together this unlikely group of people find themselves engaged in a desperate race around Los Angeles to not only keep the dying cop alive, but also for Will and Danny to figure out just how in the heck they’re going to get out of this scheme gone horrifyingly awry in one piece especially with seemingly all of the LAPD breathing down their necks….

Now if you listen closely amidst the active siren on top of the titular vehicle in this slice of cinema, you might hear the bus from Speed over in the other lane since this film does seems to be drawing a lot of inspiration from that slice of cinema. Actually, come to think there might be some of Bay’s prior efforts in some of the other lanes of traffic as well since both Bad Boys and one of my top 5 Bay films The Rock also get throwback nods fairly early in this slice of cinema. Yet more than just giving us a collection of tips of the hat, it really does seem like Bay is attempting to make this slice of cinema in the mold of a gonzo 90s action film so bring on the wonderfully over the top excess found therein! With that in mind however, I feel the question must be asked dear reader: is Ambulance simply a recap of a time-honored, albeit becoming more and more extinct, gonzo-masculine era of movie magic, or have audiences developed a nostalgia for the type of action bonanza where you can just sit back and enjoy without having to think too hard if at all? Well after seeing the film I honestly am of the opinion that it actually is a little bit of both. I say that because on one hand, Ambulance really does act as a throwback to the kind of gritty and delicately brutal-type slice of cinema that didn’t really take the time to bring up a lot in the way of questions or even for that matter answer some of the ones that it does choose to ask.  Yet even though this is the kind of cinema where too many questions would just destroy the film, it is nevertheless difficult to deny the gonzo charm that it is running on. Indeed this slice of cinema has such a riveting and delightfully over-the-top style to it that Bay is able to match this with both a lot of apparent love for and highly skilled drone camera work involving the city of L.A. Heck when you combine those two components with quite a few lovely shots of the city landscape and highways, this could easily be the gonzo action subgenre equivalent to a film like La La Land albeit with a lot less in the way of musical numbers and Best Picture mix-ups at the Oscars.

Yet perhaps the most remarkable aspect is the fact that for a director like Bay, this is actually a fairly tiny and constrained slice of cinema. A fact that becomes even more glaringly apparent when you learn that this slice of cinema only had a budget of 40 million which for Bay is astonishingly low….especially when you factor in how much the 3rd and 4th Transformers movies cost to make (don’t ask). Of course the problem with that is that Bay seems on edge about the lack of scale present in this slice of cinema and as such really does possess a problem with keeping the camera still which in turn has the tragic consequence of not really permitting the suspense and tension in the film to sink their hooks into you, the viewer. Yes I have no doubt that another helmer would have chosen to make a more scaled down and significantly more calm and collected cinematic take on this narrative. As it is though, Bay made this slice of cinema early last year since he was really wanting to get back out and make movies again even with the pandemic still being an issue and to a large extent I feel the gonzo vibe of this film really is owed to Bay’s itch to just get out of his home, speed down the highway in some vehicles, and construct a whole movie around it. At the same time though, that gonzo impulse for a slice of cinema proves to be both a benefit and a wee bit of a draw back as well.  Along with that, I also found that how exactly we as movie goers are supposed to view the two main characters is also a little bit hazy and/or murky in terms of discerning. Yes I’m sure Bay would want us as movie goers to view them as antiheroes, but given how many people their pursuit seems to seriously wound or butcher I can’t honestly say I am completely onboard with that assessment. Even so, this film does do some delightfully sneaky tinkering when it comes to the brothers and their morals (or lack thereof) by giving such moments as when the wounded cop starts looking like he might die, we see one of the brothers give some blood whilst the other keeps the pursuit alive. Thus if you really wanted to understand how best to look at this film let alone our two main characters I guess you could make the argument that there is good to be found and there is bad to be found. The trouble isn’t that these concepts aren’t apparent. Rather, it’s how Bay has chosen for them to bleed together (pun intended) if you will.

Now it is also worth mentioning that the loose and easygoing vibe and style that this slice of cinema comes equipped with also has the effect of enabling some of the cast to just throw caution to the wind and really deliver some truly wonderful performances that fit in perfectly within the style that this film is operating with. As a result, this slice of cinema is the very welcome beneficiary of terrific work from such players as wonderful character actor Garret Dillahunt, who as the law enforcement captain leading the hunt for our two leads whilst also keeping an eye on his beloved pup Nitro is a genuine treat, Eisa González, seemingly trying to be in as many automotive-themed films as she possibly can, who does a great job of ensuring that this delightfully gonzo film is able to stay at least a little bit rooted, and keeps the antic “Ambulance” grounded, and Yahya Abdul Mateen II who does fairly well at providing this over the top action thriller slice of cinema with a necessary degree of heart and pathos as well. Yet out of everyone in the cast, the clear MVP far and away would have to be Jake Gyllenhaal. Indeed I am very much aware that this man is one of the world of movie magic’s more talented performers, but I also know that he is absolutely aces when he is working with material that is a lot more…..subtle shall we say. Yet even though this slice of cinema is one that requires the role of Danny to be played by an actor who can both go as over the top as possible and also walk away with entire scenes, Gyllenhaal shows that he is wonderfully and happily up to making this role work to his advantage. Indeed Gyllenhaal manages to flip with ease between being positively charming and looking like he is about to explode into a homicidal rage whilst proving easily that he is just as riveting a screen presence in this as he was in movies like End of Watch, Prisoners, and especially Nightcrawler. Suffice it to say it’s a terrific performance, but from Gyllenhaal I can’t honestly say that I am surprised in the least.

All in all and at the end of the day, the 2022 slice of cinema that is Ambulance is a grandiose and gleefully chaotic entry in the action thriller genre that cuts a path of mayhem and destruction through downtown L.A. whilst also making you scratch your head and really contemplate just what in the world it is that you just spent the last two hours and 16 minutes watching. Indeed, more than anything, here is a slice of cinema that makes for a brilliant blend of a heist gone awry slice of cinema film like Reservoir Dogs and a movie in the vein of something akin to Speed (but thankfully not Speed 2) whilst coming equipped with all the car shenanigans and explosions that are part and parcel for a movie with Michael Bay’s name in the director’s chair. Of course, this slice of cinema is also one that is severely lacking in terms of any degree whatsoever of that element known as nuance especially in regards to the work done here by Jake Gyllenhaal who is clearly having a ball at being as over the top with this material as he possibly can. At the same time however, this slice of cinema also does manage to possess a fair degree of heart as well courtesy of the work done here by both Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eisa Gonzalez. Overall though, Ambulance is an insane and stupid to a t, but overall immensely fun slice of cinema even if its narrative is a logic lover’s worst nightmare, but this IS a Michael Bay movie we are talking about so is this really that big of a surprise? Suffice it to say then that Ambulance manages to prove itself to be a revved up joy for those who can get behind and/or have a fondness for an action thrill ride that is chaotic and over the top rolled into one to say nothing of the kind of filmmaking that made its rather iconic film helmer a household name in the first place. No it’s not novel or even intelligent cinema by any stretch of the imagination. At the very least however, it does manage to provide you, the viewer with a riveting example of the type of visceral and action-packed cinema that movie lovers have sorely been lacking for a while now. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Ambulance “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.