I have not been to a cinema since lockdowns started in Sydney. That's a long spell without a visit to the big screen - so I was extremely excited to be seeing 'Ambulance'. Settling into my seat alongside my husband ridiculously early with our popcorn, we were there with absolutely no expectations of what we were about to see. That was not only because the trailers' ridiculous premise, but also because it was directed by the king of the action genre, Michael Bay ('Transformers' franchise, 'Pain and Gain', 'Armageddon'). So once the lights went down, how did the film pan out?
William Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, 'The Matrix Resurrections', 'Candyman', 'Aquaman') - who prefers to be known as Will - desperately needs some money to help his sick wife Amy (Moses Ingram, 'The Tragedy of Macbeth'). He turns to his brother Daniel (Jake Gyllenhaal, 'Spider-Man: Far From Home', 'Wildlife', 'Donnie Darko') - who prefers to be known as Danny - who's fallen into their father's former business of big-time bank robberies. When Danny invites Will along for (yes, you got it) one last job, there's millions on the line... but it all goes awry, and the brothers are forced to hijack an ambulance to make their escape, with EMT Cam (Eiza González, 'Godzilla vs. Kong', 'Baby Driver') and injured police officer Zach (Jackson White, TV's 'Mrs. Fletcher') as hostages. It's not long before all of the LAPD and the FBI are on their tail - and explosions ensue.
There are a few Michael Bay signature moves that guarantee you can pick his work - a constantly moving camera, lens flares, a score inundated with drones. Now, he's added a new tool to his kit - FPV shots. Yes, drones that swing the camera 360 degrees to add that additional travel sickness to your action. They probably (conservatively) make up about 30% of the film, so pack your tramadol. It does take you inches away from the blasts, car flips and chases, which definitely engages you in the action, but it's also a little overused... so much so that there are points where some of these grand shots are only up on the screen for two or three seconds.
It's a shame that so much effort was put into choreographing the action sequences, because it doesn't seem anywhere near as much work was put into the script. It feels like much of the dialogue - of which there isn't a great deal - is very off the cuff. The storyline is almost non-existent, but for some reason the film's run time drags out to nearly two and a half hours, with a lot of the second act that easily could have been culled. The character development is equally as slim; the character nicknames and details about their dad mentioned above are about as far as Will and Danny progress with backstory over the period of the film; one line from the latter perfectly encapsulating what's trying to be conveyed as the story progresses: "We're not the bad guys. We're just the guys trying to get home."
It's a shame that so much effort was put into choreographing the action sequences, because it doesn't seem anywhere near as much work was put into the script.
That's all the more disappointing given the level of talent Bay has to work with. Jake Gyllenhaal is clearly revelling in his villainous streak of late, while Yahya Abdul-Mateen II brings his natural charisma and gravitas to his role. Yet while Gyllenhaal is good in his performance and Abdul-Mateen is great, the real scene-stealer here is González. She brings a degree of believability to the role, and I was 100% on board with her portrayal of an EMT. That's not easy to pull off, but there was real substance that she brings to her character that made me cheer her on, right to the cheesy finale. She's the hero of this piece, and carries the weight of her role with great sincerity.
In spite of all its flaws, the degree of entertainment brought on by 'Ambulance' is remarkable. It's funny that the more ridiculous it gets - and it becomes pretty damn unbelievable - the more you have to know how it ends. These brothers have put themselves into an essentially dead-ended predicament, and to find out how it all resolves itself becomes a necessity as the tension rachets up.
What does this add to the heist genre? Apart from a few explosions, not much. But given the pandemic we're all living through, the enjoyment that 'Ambulance' brings is the perfect way to check out and spend time with an outrageous yet satisfying adventure. Go in with low expectations and you'll be rewarded. This is a non-stop movie with ridiculous characters, high-octane car chases and wild action sequences. If you don't take anything in it too seriously, it's a wonderful way to lose yourself in absolute silliness.