Ambulance (United States, 2022)

April 10, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Ambulance Poster

If you’re more interested in visual razzamatazz than little things like character development or interaction, Ambulance may be your movie. If you prefer sweeping, hyperkinetic camera movements and spastic editing to a coherent narrative, Ambulance may be your movie. And if you prefer amped-up tension and snarky one-liners to well-written dialogue, Ambulance may be your movie. After all, it’s a Michael Bay film and, while it has all the Bay tropes, it’s unquestionably better than the likes of Transformers.

Two-thirds of Ambulance’s 135-minute running time is spent within the confines of an ambulance, which becomes involved in an improbable high-speed chase on the streets and freeways of Los Angeles. (The lack of traffic – relatively speaking – is one of the least believable aspects of the movie.) There are times when the movie captures a similar vibe to the one that made Speed so enjoyable, but the appeal of the characters (and the overall situation) is lacking. Speed incorporated more than mere technical bravura, while that quality is pretty much all that Ambulance has to keep it going at 60 mph.

The film opens by introducing us to Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). In his introductory scene, we learn all the requisite things that make it apparent he’s a good guy who has been given the shaft – he’s a decorated soldier, he has an infant son, his wife needs an experimental operation that insurance won’t pay for (and that has a price tag north of $200,000), and no one gives a damn. The screenplay lays it on so thick that it almost feels like a parody. Needing a loan, Will turns to his bank robber brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who just so happens to have an opening on his team for an upcoming job. Turns out, Danny doesn’t have much of a plan and when things go awry, he and Will hijack an ambulance as a way to get out of Dodge. There’s a problem, though – the back is occupied by a critically wounded cop Will shot during the getaway (Jackson White) and the paramedic (Eiza Gonzalez) working on him.  

The majority of the film is a combination chase and chess game with Danny matching wits with the two chief law enforcement personnel pursuing him – L.A. police captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and FBI agent Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell). Monroe is the cliched macho man who makes appearances in most Bay films (although usually played by a better-known actor) and Clark happens to have been Danny’s college roommate. Small world.

Jake Gyllenhaal, fresh off playing Mephisto, must have had some leftover villain vibes he needed to shed. What better outlet than a film that doesn’t expect more for him to do than act increasingly unhinged? Although Ambulance attempts to develop character arcs for two of its three primary figures, nothing of the sort applies to Danny. Meanwhile, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza Gonzalez do what they can with underwritten roles. No matter how outrageous the circumstances become, they keep straight faces.

Bay came to the project, which had been kicking around Hollywood for some time (it’s a remake of 2005 Danish film), when he was going stir-crazy from COVID restrictions (his planned film, a much bigger affair, was put on hold). He wanted something low-budget ($40M was the reported cost) with a small cast and a limited number of sets. From time-to-time, directors facing such stripped-down limitations have had remarkable results. This isn’t one of those instances.

From the sluggish introduction to the chaotic heist scenes (which happen quickly and haphazardly), the first 45 minutes of Ambulance struggle to find any sort of rhythm. Once the protracted ambulance chase begins, the film is on firmer footing and viewers will recognize aspects of the familiar Speed template, but the movie never achieves anything more substantive than being impressive eye candy. After a while, it becomes more exhausting than exhilarating.

Bay is increasingly looking more like a dinosaur – a veteran filmmaker whose style and material doesn’t mesh with today’s Hollywood. Over the years, he has made some entertaining films (The Rock remains the pinnacle of his career) but the former music video director may need to reinvent himself to rediscover relevance, and Ambulance isn’t a good place to start.

Ambulance (United States, 2022)

Run Time: 2:16
U.S. Release Date: 2022-04-08
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Action/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1