Speeding into UK cinemas today is the action-thriller, Ambulance. The movie – directed by Michael Bay – stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, and Eiza González, and follows the story of two brothers, Will and Danny, who hijack an ambulance after a bank heist goes wrong.
In the movie, Will is an ex-military officer, down on his luck. He is out of work and is desperate for money to pay for his wife’s urgent surgery, but his medical insurance won’t cover the expenses.
Unable to secure any cash, he asks his brother, Danny, a life-long criminal, for help. Danny suggests the best way to acquire quick cash is to accompany him on a planned bank heist, which is worth a total of $32 million.
Although Will is reluctant to commit a crime, his need outweighs his senses, and the two are soon holding up a bank, along with Danny’s crew. However, when their crime is interrupted by a police officer, who is then accidentally shot, the heist turns sour.
Keen to make their escape, Danny and Will hijack an ambulance, taking the injured cop and an EMT hostage. What then follows is an explosive car chase across LA, as the pair make a bid for freedom while being pursued by law enforcement officers.
OK, I’ll hold my hands up here and say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Michael Bay movies. Bad Boys (1995), The Rock (1996) and the original live-action Transformers (2007) movie are all fine, but the rest of his directing portfolio does nothing for me.
I have very little interest in his movies in general and I find the vast majority of his work disappointing. However, while I’ve still got my hands in the air, I’ll wave them around and say that despite my usual disinterest in his work, I had a lot of fun with Ambulance.
For those who love Michael Bay movies, the film ticks all of the boxes you’ve come to expect. The frantic camera work, the Dutch angles, the slow-motion sequences, the lens flair, and the cheesy scenes of heroism are all present and correct, making it classic Bay.
But for those who are not fans of the director, and find all this kind of stuff a bit tiresome, Ambulance still has a lot to offer. From start to finish it is a thrilling action movie, filled with some good set pieces, a relentless sense of energy, and one very fine performance from Jake Gyllenhaal.
Ambulance works as well as it does because first and foremost it has a very basic premise: Bank heist goes wrong, car chase follows. There’s a little more to it than that, with some added story beats to build suspense and tension, but in a nutshell, this is the beating heart of the narrative.
Very much to Bay’s credit, by utilising such a simple premise, the film is able to just get straight into the action, and this is a positive. There’s not a great deal of faffing at the start of the film and everything is soon able to escalate.
As the movie progresses, the pace then quickens, and the situation for Danny and Will continues to get worse. It’s all straight forward stuff, but this lack of complexity is an asset and one which makes the film easy to get into.
The second thing that works for Ambulance is the sheer likeability of the three central leads: Danny, Will, and the EMT named Cam. The movie positions itself around this trio, and while each character is different, with varying shades of good and bad in the mix, all are engaging to watch.
In the case of Cam, she’s a no-nonsense paramedic who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is essentially the good gal of the movie, so she is always someone to root for.
With regard to Will, he is a someone who makes bad decisions for the right reasons. His desire to help his family, as well as his general good nature, makes him a somewhat relatable villain, who is again a person the audience can side with.
And then there’s Danny, who is the career criminal, who should be the number one bad guy of the movie, but oddly, he kind of isn’t. This is because Danny has a certain charisma about him, which humanises his character, and dare I say it again, also makes him someone the audience can connect with.
Because all three characters feel three-dimensional and fully formed, it is difficult not to want a positive resolution for all of them. And this is something which is very important for a story which centres so much of its action around gun-wielding criminals.
Had the film painted Danny and Will as unlikable bank robbers, Ambulance wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting as it is. But because it makes Danny and Will’s journey just as important as the survival of Cam (and the injured cop), there’s a great deal of story and characterisation to get invested in.
It also helps that all three lead actors are good in their roles, and bring something to the screen. However, as mentioned above, the stand out star is Jake Gyllenhaal, who is superb as Danny.
Gyllenhaal has had some strong performances as of late, in films such as Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) and The Guilty (2021), and this is another one to add to his résumé. Gyllenhaal nails this part completely and seems to relish every moment of it.
As for everything else in this film, there is a good smattering of chuckles, plenty of gunfire, lots of explosions, and various scenes of dramatic driving. There’s also a very tense moment involving some preposterous high-speed surgery, as well as copious amounts of nonsense involving a dog, a spray-painter, and a car equipped with a machine gun.
It is fair to say that at times, Ambulance is completely and utterly bonkers and very predictable, yet it is also incredibly fun. Sure, the film feels very much like the sort of picture Michael Bay was making fifteen or twenty years ago, with no signs of any stylistic progression taking place since, but with this script and this cast at his disposal, it’s not really a problem.
It’s not a problem because of the way he drives the action forward, because of how well the characters and actors hit their marks, and because there are enough little story developments to keep things forever moving forward. The perpetual momentum of this film ensures it keeps on trucking, and the end result is something really quite likeable.
Last month I let the utterly ridiculous disaster movie, Moonfall, get a pass because it was a spectacularly entertaining piece of popcorn fodder. Likewise, this month Ambulance is getting a pass for similar reasons too.
However, Ambulance also gets upgraded to a ‘thumbs up’ from me. I may not be a Bay fan, but as far as I am concerned, this is one of his better pictures, and I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Sure, the film is a fraction too long, and his chaotic camera work should come with a sickness warning, but this is solid stuff. If you are looking for something that’s a mix between Speed (1994) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), or you simply want relentless fun, then be sure to catch Ambulance when you can.