The story goes that at university a young Michael Bay was tasked with producing a short film that showcased his feelings, his proclivities, his soul. Thus, he produced a short picture all about a hot girl in the driver’s seat of an expensive sports car, wind in her hair as she joyrides through Los Angeles. His soul indeed.
His latest opus, Ambulance, is a humanistic ode to the city of angels and the angels which inhabit its many hospitals, clinics, fire engines, and yes, ambulances. Believe it or not, Ambulance is COVID-era ode to first responders. As far as the city itself, it’s a character unto itself, and he honors it via sweeping drop-shots and crane-shots scanning every major orifice of the city. And he doesn’t do it with cranes. He does it with drones, drones, drones. Michael Bay has discovered drone cameras and we’re all the better for it, as he deploys them in the service of utter Bayhem in Ambulance, a delight if you’re a grown man who still watches original adult entertainment and not only the next IP offering off Hollywood’s franchise assembly line. Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul Mateen pop off the screen as step brothers going their separate ways, one of them (Mateen) a former Marine down on his luck and searching for answers to pay for his wife’s cancer surgery, the other (Gyllenhaal) a career bank robber following in their father’s L.A. legacy footsteps. Naturally, brother bank robber Danny Sharp has a risky job for brother Marine Will: assisting in a $32 million bank heist. Naturally, the job goes poorly, and they end up commandeering an ambulance housing L.A.’s best EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) and the injured cop they nearly killed by accident. They’re not killers, so it’s a race to outrun the police hot on their tail while keeping alive the officer in need of major life-saving surgery. This is adrenaline-fueled action filmmaking at its finest, utilizing speeding drones to grant us witness to some of cinema’s more exhilarating angles in some time, be it a shot underneath a flying police cruiser or zig-zagging around corners, cars, and buildings, angles that would prove impossible in a standard rig. A few of them are unnecessary and unmotivated, but this is Bay afterall.
Most of all, Bay pulls off the delicate balancing act of developing his archetypal characters without investing in hackneyed dialogue, instead opting for silent, dreamy flashbacks showcasing Will and Danny’s young brotherhood. Bay shows us brotherly bonds instead of telling us about it, and he shows us EMT Cam’s commitment to her job instead of telling us. The cardinal sin of filmmaking is telling us too much, and showing us very little. Bay hasn’t always been adept at such things, and that’s why Ambulance is one of his better pictures. He’s committed to his job here, unlike the last couple of Transformers outings. Yahya Abdul Mateen continues a commanding hot streak following plum roles in The Matrix Resurrections and HBO’s Watchmen, and Jake Gyllenhaal continues a Villian-haal trend of on-screen madness and intensity. He’s hot-headed, charmingly charismatic, and bug-nuts out for blood all at the same time. His Danny Sharp is both anti-hero and villain, and he’s got something to prove in the wake of his father’s legacy. Filling out the rest of a ninety-minute car chase are Garret Dillahunt as a police captain in a USC Trojans shirt and military digs and Kier O’Donnell (Wedding Crashers) as an FBI spook with ties to Danny. Subversively, law enforcement officials continually cause more carnage and mayhem chasing these two than either one of them would’ve caused on their own if they were simply allowed to make off with millions of dollars in bank funds. They bungle nearly every attempt to catch the Sharp brothers or stop their siren-blaring getaway vehicle, wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in city resources and causing potentially millions of dollars in property damage. Danny may be a proper psychopath, but he and Will aren’t the greater danger to public safety here.
P.S. Bay reminds us he’s Bay with laughable one-liners like “we used to be best friends.”