Two robbers steal an ambulance after their heist goes awry.
(That’s basically it. Nothing more complicated than that.)
THE GOOD STUFF
MICHAEL BENJAMIN BAY– In an interview promoting this very film, co-star Eiza Gonzalez said of Michael Bay that he thrives off of a smaller budget. “Because then he has to rely on characters and performances, and build something out of nothing because he does not have a particular budget”. Bay is a director that’s been working for about 25 years now and I can say after seeing this film… that statement is almost inarguable. Movies like 13 HOURS, PAIN AND GAIN, and BAD BOYS often prove how skilled of a director he truly is. And this is a film that deserves to be mentioned right alongside those aforementioned films.
If you, like myself, have grown up on this man’s films, then you will flat out recognize certain camera angles, and explosion tricks, you’ll be able to predict when the music kicks in heavy during a dramatic scene, you’ll notice all the cheesy s*** he does to try and invoke the sympathy of the audience, and you will also notice that like Smith and Lawrence, Cage and Connery, Rock and Wahlberg, and Willis and Affleck, he does have a way of making the chemistry between two actors look like they’ve been working together for decades. All of the magic that Michael Bay can do on camera is in this film. And yes, you’re going to have to deal with the corny stuff too, but the magic is worth it.
JAKE F****** GYLLENHAAL– I don’t know how impressed I am by people who lose a bunch of weight for a role anymore. I don’t know how impressed I am by people who bulk up a whole bunch for a role anymore either. Such physical feats are not necessarily what defines an amazing actor. Nor is it being in a bunch of Oscar bait-y type character roles to prove how “serious” you are. To me, the most impressive thing that an actor can be is diverse. Being a jack of all trades is truly more impressive than being a master of one particular thing. There are a handful of actors in the game that can pull off every genre convincing. I did not think that Jake Gyllenhaal was one of those people…. Until now.
This character very much is very much a classic style run and gun Michael Bay type of character. But because this movie takes place in one day, we don’t necessarily have a lot of time to get to know him. What’s important is that he is a consummate professional, and it is purposefully played out to the audience, that acts of humanity are in fact a WEAKNESS and not something that makes him likable. And you can tell that Gyllenhaal is having a hell of a time playing a character like that. Gyllenhaal is truly one of the best in the game.
GARRET DILLAHUNT– Garret Dillahunt has long been a very underappreciated character actor. He’s been in a lot more familiar things than you would believe, and he’s one of them dudes that will pop up on screen, an instantaneously you have that look on your face like…
What this film has NOT advertised itself to be is a story between three men. The two men holding hostages in the ambulance…and the grizzled vet trying to match wits with them along the way. His character is shown to be the intellectually SUPERIOR character, and that is somewhat of a departure. Often in these types of movies, one of our main characters is a genius. But not here. The two main characters here are acting off of instinct, and more often than not in this movie they are reacting to the strategic things that Dillahunt’s character puts in their way. And to top it all off he’s the comic relief in the film when it’s all said and done. He was a lot of fun to watch here.
THE SECOND ACT- I would say the second act of this movie takes up the vast majority of this films running time, and to coin a very, very, very old 1990s type phrase, the second act of this film is indeed…A NON-STOP THRILL RIDE!!!!
It’s just one awesome, creative transition from sequence to sequence involving an ambulance truck that you would only see an old school ’90s movies. Yes, physics kind of don’t matter here, but please don’t forget who’s directing this thing. It’s not done in some cartoonishly gravity defying way like you would see in a Fast and Furious movie, so it’s not too distracting to the point where you’re laughing at the screen. Gyllenhaal, Mateen, and Gonzalez bring it all down to earth no matter how ridiculous the scenario, and this film is so much better to have those three along for the ride.
THE BAD STUFF
LAUGHABLE GEOGRAPHY– This is probably something that’s just going to bother me, or anyone else living in the city in which this movie takes place. I understand that there are a lot of very visually idiosyncratic things about the downtown section of Los Angeles that add a lot of personality to the story being told. I also understand that because they’re not necessarily driving to a particular destination during the first 30 minutes or so of this film you’re just going to run into a lot of random things, and you’re going to want to see as many quirky LA things as possible to give tribute to the city itself.
But man, if you live here, you will understand that this ambulance chase is jumping 10 to 15 blocks at a time. One minute they’ll be in front of the Central Library downtown, and then in the very next shot they’ll be driving loops around the Convention Center at LA Live. One minute they’re next to the front of Union Station, then they are a block or two from MacArthur Park, then they’ll turn a corner and then magically they’ll be right near USC and I’m just like….
This movie takes place in a flat-out trafficless alternate universe version of Downtown LA. It can be a bit distracting. I can assure you that this chase wouldn’t be able to take place whatsoever given the section of LA they’re setting this in without it becoming a sequel to The Twisted Metal video game.
THE UGLY STUFF
QUESTIONABLE DECISION MAKING– The true fault that lies in this film is the number of sections in which the character played by Yayan Abdul Mateen II (and ONLY the character played by Yayan Abdul Mateen II) makes VERY poor critical decisions that otherwise could have dramatically shortened the running time of this movie.
I tend to hate in horror movies when characters make a REALLY dumb decision just so that we can get to the action sequence or kill, and sitting through multiple horror films, the dumb decisions happen for so long, that I just can’t ignore it when other movies and other genres tend to do it. Given the level of stupidity of the decision it could fully upend your suspension of disbelief. Needless to say, this character makes gold medal worthy silly ass decisions in this film, and it can’t be ignored.
It’s important to acknowledge how good this film is in juxtaposition to the rest of the Michael Bay resume. A lot of films that Bay has done have been cherished, and revered over multiple decades. A lot of films that made more money than this one will, a lot more films that may be more quotable, or might have an iconic song or two to assist with the legacy of the film itself.
It is important to acknowledge that from top to bottom: performances, action sequences, the pacing, the way its shot, the sheer awesomeness of the second act, and the fact that the third act of this film does stick the landing in a very satisfying way…. I believe this is a film that deserves to be placed right next to the very best from Michael Bay. Maybe not above some films, but right next to them.
AMBULANCE is playing in theaters now.