After his putrid but profitable 1995 debut “Bad Boys,” director Michael Bay delivered “The Rock,” one of the smartest action flicks of the last three decades. It too made big bucks, and Bay solidified his position as the movie industry’s go-to hired gun for big-budget, pyrotechnic-laden extravaganzas.
Apart from “The Rock,” Bay has helmed 13 other movies that all landed squarely in the black, and not a single one of them (that he has directed and many he only produced) has an aggregate “fresh” score on RottenTomatoes.com.
As of this writing, his newest effort has a 65 percent rating, a number that is likely to drop below the site’s 60 percent “rotten” threshold before the end of opening weekend.
Hailed by some as a “return to form” (which is odd as Bay has never changed form), “Ambulance” contains everything we’ve come to expect from him and much, much more. So much more, in fact that when it is finally over, you’ll feel as if you were rolled down a steep bank of jagged rocks in a used metal trash can during a thunderstorm in late August.
A Half-Hour’s Worth of Real Story
For the first 30 of its excruciatingly taxing 136 minutes, Bay and screenwriter Chris Fedak (adapting the 2005 Danish film of the same name of by Laurits Munch-Petersen) threaten to present a coherent story, complete with pesky things like interesting dialogue, character development, and an engaging back story.
It begins with service veteran Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “Candyman”) on the phone with a generic and uncaring insurance carrier and getting nowhere in the process. Everyone knows this situation all too well. Will’s wife Amy (Moses Ingram) needs to undergo a medical procedure costing $231,000 but, because it is deemed “experimental,” it’s not covered.
Unemployed and nearly out of options, Will bites the bullet and pays a visit to Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose deceased father adopted Will as a child. For the duration, Danny and Will (as they should) refer to each other as “brothers,” and they discipline anyone who questions or mocks their strong familial connection, sometimes with detrimental results.
Will is hesitant in going to Danny with hat in hand because the latter, like their father, is a career criminal. Danny is more than happy to provide Will the funds he needs but it comes with a caveat: He must participate in a bank robbery that will net them over $30 million.
Dedicated but Detached EMT
While all of this is taking place, first responder Cam (Eiza González, “I Care a Lot”) rescues a little girl involved in a nasty car accident with blazing efficiency and a superb bedside manner. Acknowledged by her peers as the best EMT in Los Angeles, Cam has also trained herself to detach herself emotionally once her professional duties have concluded.
It is immediately after the robbery (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the one conducted by Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight”) that Cam and her ambulance is commandeered by Danny and the increasingly skittish Will. This scene also marks the end of anything resembling subtlety, logic, or the acknowledgement of the laws of physics, probability and outcome, and plain common sense.
With the attention span of a ferret after a double espresso, Bay turns the volume up to 11 while including the whiplash splicing and dicing of 105 minutes of footage where no edit lasts longer than three seconds. Including every possible camera angle, and bell and whistle he employed in the five-part “Transformers” franchise, Bay has a field day with the newest tool in his wheelhouse: camera-equipped drones.
For a while (about five minutes), the passages filmed with the drones are admittedly interesting, innovative, and provide tasty eye candy. They swoop in and swoosh out of interior and exterior sets with unerring ease capturing images no traditional cameras could possibly achieve. However, in very short order, this new whiz-bang technique grows tiresome while inducing considerable motion sickness.
Canine Comic Relief?
For no reason other than he could, Bay cast his own dog Nitro, a 200-pound-plus Mastiff, as the “Turner & Hooch” inspired canine sidekick of SIS officer Monroe (Garret Dillahunt, “Raising Hope”). The pair shows up at a crime scene in a car only slightly larger than a go cart. This is what passes for comic relief in a Bay movie. Fedak also force-fits a thoroughly unneeded “woke” subplot into the mix which elicited noticeable disapproving groans from audience members at the preview screening.
Try as they might, the filmmakers want us to believe a bulky square truck containing vast quantities of heavy equipment can allude, outrun, and out-maneuver literally hundreds of supped-up LAPD police cars, all of which are destroyed before all of the dust settles. Also included is a slow-speed chase through Los Angeles reminiscent of a real-life bizarre event taking place on the same roads in 1994 involving a former NFL running back.
Gallant Efforts in Vain
Credit and kudos to the principal cast members who, despite great dedication to portraying their respective characters, do so while swimming upstream against one of the silliest, most outlandish, and impossible-to-believe stories to ever come down the pike. Perhaps realizing he’s trapped in a brain-dead narrative, Gyllenhaal goes full-tilt gonzo with his performance and appears to be the only person having any fun. If you’re interested in seeing Gyllenhaal as an imposing villain in a far better movie, check out the vastly underrated “Nightcrawler” from 2014, also set in L.A.
While wrapping up on a relatively positive up note, “Ambulance” (which is almost an hour longer than the Danish original) provides next to no reason for its existence. It finds Bay doing what he does “better” than anyone else: slapping together what is the cinematic equivalent of fishing lures. They’re bright and shiny, and look better on a hook than worms, but in the end contain absolutely zero metaphorical nutritional value.
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt
Running Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: April 8, 2022
Rating: 2 out of 5