Review: Ambulance | Overall comment
No one should feel sorry for Michael Bay. Let’s understand this from the start. His mass blockbusters have grossed nearly $8 billion, so he should be ready for a rainy day. His five Transformer movies (you read that right – five) took place alongside the growing success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but even the unstoppable force of his Bayhem directing style (blow everything up, blow shit up, make irreverent characters play dumb jokes) hit the steadfast object of the disney mastodon and was found missing.
His last movie, Ambulance roughly broke even on its forty million dollar budget and was released on VOD about a month after its theatrical release. Bay is worth around half a billion dollars. But leave a movie like Ambulance flatline in theaters could be the terminal for this muscle-bound action movie genre, which doesn’t require you to watch an ever-expanding narrative big bang across multiple movie and TV shows. Yes, Ambulance is too long but at least it has an ending.
If you park your frontal lobe and engage the lizard part of your brain, then Ambulance is pure emotionality fueled by the highest purity crack. Bay intimidates the screen with an all-out assault of Bayhem maximus, taking his pent-up frustration of being grounded by Covid for two years and turning it into a flamboyant cinematic assault with an arsenal of secret weapons – drone fire. Thousands of them.
Unleashed like flying demons fleeing hell, Baymageddon descends on Los Angeles. Drones skim over polished concrete floors, speed up and down the sides of buildings, weave between pillars, and weave under exploding cars as they twist and twist to destruction. It is akin to Prometheus stealing fire from the gods or Zeus receiving his lightning from the Cyclops to defeat Cronus and the Titans. Bay is the cinematic Oppenheimer, “I have become Death, destroyer of worlds.”
Such a destructive endeavor needs such an unbalanced performance, and Jake Gyllenhaal is Bay’s main horseman of the apocalypse. He plays Danny Sharp, a career bank robber looking to steal $32 million in cold, hard cash (wire transfers and PayPal just don’t cut it cinematically). Resplendent in cashmere and automatic weapons, Danny goes up against his foster brother Will, an unlucky former military man, to join the heist and before he can summon the ghost of Heat it all goes south, leaving the brothers in a stolen ambulance with an injured cop and the best paramedic in town, Cam Thompson.
If the characterization is lacking, it’s more than made up for by the raw adrenaline and jaw-dropping performances. Gyllenhaal has eyes bulging and nerves wired, “We’re a locomotive – WE DON’T STOP!” He’s an action demon and can be watched endlessly as he bounces around inside the ambulance on god knows what. Yaha Abdul-Mateen is stoic like his brother, the tether that pretty much keeps Gyllenhaal from leaving the planet like the “Starman” in Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster. Eiza González keeps her track record intact for playing fuckable action characters in movies like baby driver and Hobbs & Shaw as a tough-as-nails Cam paramedic.
Bayhem constantly emphasizes the action, it’s draining and exhausting, but uplifts in a way that few action films ever can. It may not be Mad Max: Fury Road but it tears wonder with its gonzo stunts and explosive camera moves. In reality, Ambulance throws the camera away with such blind abandon that it traces its DNA to the diabolical death movies. Perhaps wonder may have the last laugh as the director of these films is about to enter the fray with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Maybe we should pity Michael Bay after all.