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MOVIES: Ambulance - Review

Michael Bay is back. I never saw 6 Underground but his films have been consistently underwhelming since maybe… The Rock? – but the promise of a Grand Theft Auto fuelled mayhem using downtown Los Angeles as a playground really drew me in – and Bay holds nothing back, casting Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as two brothers who find themselves the sole survivors of a heist of a major LA bank – the biggest in the city’s history – escaping with the money in the back of an ambulance carrying an injured cop that they accidentally shot whilst trying to get away; and a hostage – Eiza Gonzalez’s Cam, a no-nonsense paramedic who struggles to find a partner due to her callous attitude and day-drinking on the job.

Bay spends a short montage in setting up why the trio of leads do what they do – Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Will Sharp is a decorated war veteran struggling to adapt to a civilian lifestyle and finds himself going to career criminal adoptive brother Danny (Gyllenhaal) for a favour only to find himself signed up for a heist. The heist quickly escalates when it’s revealed there’s been an informant and the police are aware of everything that is going on around them – and the big guns are called in like the Grand Theft Auto raising of a wanted level, one-by-one you see the dominos fall. Given GTA5 borrowed liberally from the map of Los Angeles fans of the game will feel right at home in Ambulance as it doesn’t take too long for the chase to get underway – and the stakes are raised and the tension is heightened as Bay propels you forward in this adaption from a 2005 film by Laurits Munch-Petersen, although you wouldn’t know it – it might as well be an original product.

The chaotic energy of Bay’s signature style as an American auteur director are bought to the forefront here with the hallmarks that you’d expect from the director but that extends to both his strengths and weaknesses. The action scenes are no-holds-barred chaotic destruction on an unprecedented scale; but the camera cuts too quickly – and Bay almost overindulges in excess at every turn – the film uses stereotypes that Bay has deployed without care in the past and could have easily been done without in this film here. He doesn’t hold back from referencing his own movies – paying homage to Bad Boys and outwardly quoting the movie itself. It’s a kind of smug self-awareness that has kept leading him on a path of one step forward; two steps back over the course of his career – showing signs of improvement from the awful Transformers franchise but never really breaking into his stride.

The committed performances from the cast keep Ambulance watchable even when – I’m not going to lie here – it feels its length. The original 2005 film ran for 1 hour and 20 minutes yet the 136 minutes that Ambulance runs for feels like an eternity – Gyllenhaal revels in the role as an initially calm but quickly unhinged force of nature – and Abdul-Mateen II is excellent opposite him. Gonzalez is terrific propelled into a hostage situation on a normal day at the job – and the bond that the three characters share tests the limit of credibility but in the world of Michael Bay makes perfect sense. If you’re watching a Michael Bay film for credibility you’re doing it wrong.

Ambulance is by no means a good film then – but it is a good Michael Bay film? Absolutely – Bay might just have given his best work since The Rock – and if it’s something that you know you’re going to enjoy going in – you’ll love it, but as always Bay will not convince anyone who is predetermined not to like his work.

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