The two most important letters in the title “Ambulance” are “L” and “A”. This film, Michael Bay’s maximalist exploration of the streets of Los Angeles, wastes no time before diving into hyper-fast editing. When the cuts come so fast that the occipital lobes of your brain start shaking, that’s Bayhem, baby.
The story begins with an example of our failing healthcare system. A US Navy vet, Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), tries to speak to a live agent regarding insurance coverage for his wife’s upcoming surgery. After another frustrating rejection, Will lies to his lover that everything is settled and leaves for a “job interview” which is actually a meeting with Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). Flashbacks establish that these two met as boys on neatly graffitied social streets and became, as the film struggles to establish, brothers.
When the intimate buddies reunite, it quickly emerges that Danny is leaving his mansion to rob a bank like right now. And wants to know if Will is in or out. Why fight insurance companies for a whopping $200,000 when you can shanghai several million from the LA Federal Trust vault? In the ensuing flight scene, Bay is clearly inspired by the climax of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” and the Yahya Abdul-Mateen II character is reminiscent of Dennis Haysbert’s doomed escape pilot.
As Danny’s crew smash their way through, bullets shoot out of the submachine guns at molar rattling volume and a dizzyingly dizzying, Tower of Terror-style drone camera dives down from the height of a skyscraper and back down to the sidewalk. Danny’s other henchmen end up crashing on the sidewalks of downtown LA, but he and Will are able to hijack the ambulance in which we’ll spend the rest of the film. With his big aquamarine eyes and bearded charm, Gyllenhaal works overtime to make this image work.
Along with the ambulance, they’ve kidnapped the best paramedic in the business, Cam (Eiza González) – her lipstick, like her composure, never falters. She wishes she wasn’t stuck with these crazies but, as Danny fondly explains, “I wish I didn’t have herpes, but we all have to live with what we have.” Straddling a stretcher is a bleeding cop named Zach (Jackson White). For Will and Danny, it’s a hostage, for Cam, it’s a life to save. The LAPD Response Team (and around 300 police cars) is led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) who wears two USC Trojan outfits throughout the film – we know he’ll “fight” .
Fifty years from now, how will we remember Bay, the man who gave us five “Transformers” movies for the net of Meatloaf’s music video oeuvre? Will he be a forgotten schlockmeister or an adorably trashy author whose unusual inclinations set him apart? We last saw him drifting bullet-riddled Lamborghinis through the Uffizi in ‘6 Underground,’ making him the rare big-budget director to helm sequel films that aren’t part of greater openness. In “Ambulance,” he’s vapid in an endearing way, such as when he forces his characters to praise Bay’s earlier films “The Rock” and “Bad Boys” as part of their police jokes. Cleverly, the director realizes that what our broken nation needs is Jake Gyllenhaal dangling from a high-speed ambulance, spraying machine gun fire at SWAT helicopters.
The most popcorn-intensive sequence occurs when Cam calls her aggrieved ex, an ER doctor, who connects her with surgeons on the golf course. Via FaceTime, they try to guide her through a bullet removal procedure in the back of the high-speed truck (a hair clip becomes an important medical tool). Imagine if OJ cut a hostage’s spleen out of the back of the white Ford Bronco…
Will slaloms through plenty of slick jaunts (this ambulance uses incredible gas mileage) but despite the captain’s distaste for LA’s “liberal mayor of Silver Lake,” the cops are hard to shake off. Our heroes are going after the LAPD’s $1.9 billion annual budget – and they have a lot more ways to kill than to save. If you want to ride in this “Ambulance”, see it on the big screen. The only other way to capture the heady onslaught is to stand about 6 inches from your TV screen. “Ambulance” is exploitative, rude, aggressively dumb – all in all a great time.