How many good bank heist movies are there? “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Heat” are the gold standard, but recent films such as “The Town” and “Baby Driver” should also be applauded. But where does “Ambulance” — also stylized as “AmbuLAnce,” just to reinforce where the film takes place — fit on that scale? Well, Michael Bay’s latest does harken back to the first two films mentioned in some ways but combines the spirits of those films with a “Fast & Furious” movie. Is “Ambulance” brilliant? By no means. But it’s a mind-numbing two-and-a-half-hour adrenaline rush that has the foot on the gas for damn near the entirety of the film. For those that want an escape from the world and are able to completely turn off their brains for this jam-packed movie, you’ll be entertained. If you’re looking for anything more, do what Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s character should have done in the film: run while you can.
“Ambulance” doesn’t even bother to give that much time to set up its characters, thus I won’t waste your time attempting to do so. Will Sharp is a veteran that is in desperate need of money for his wife to get “experimental” surgery. He goes to his adoptive brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is prepping for a heist with a score of $32 million. But as we all know, these hits never go as planned, resulting in the two being wrapped up in an adventure that can only be equated to a game of “GTA” on five stars. There are all of the things you expect in a Michael Bay film, hostages, gunfire, and explosions (and lots of ’em).
The film opens with Will and Danny as children in a very Hallmark-y fashion. They shoot hoops, listen to music together, and stare off into the sunset making each other laugh. Within three minutes, we’re introduced to the adult versions of the characters. They’ve become distant in the years since their childhood, this explains Will’s hesitance to go to Danny for help. After some back-and-forth, including the very cliched “Have I ever gotten you into something I couldn’t get you out of?” plea from Danny, Will agrees to be a part of the crew made up of the brothers, “Mel Gibson” (Devan Chandler Long), and Trent (Brendan Miller), who is the closest thing to a Val Kilmer-in-“Heat”-lookalike that you can get.
Perhaps “Ambulance” isn’t trying to be anything of substance, but the characters are nothing more than walking cliches. Will is a man with a good heart who is driven to extreme measures in desperate times. Cam (Eiza González), is a hard-working EMT who does the right thing; though she goes against her policy of letting her patients be nothing more than a day’s work. Danny is the roughrider who loves the chase and even has that rubber band tick that at least one member of the crew has in these movies. There were attempts at humanizing some of the supporting characters; FBI Agent Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell) is going through a rough patch with his husband and is in therapy when the audience first meets him. He also has a history with Danny and is able to exposition-vomit tidbits about Will and Danny’s father, another expert thief. In fairness to Danny, he has some layers to him (if you want to call them that). He sees past the melodrama of his situation, claiming that he and Will are “the good guys just trying to get home.”
The actual heist itself is neat, I guess. The best part, which is when Danny draws the police officer (Jackson White) in, is featured in the trailer. Nevertheless, it’s a great scene that displays the brilliance of Gyllenhaal. Once their plan is figured out, a shootout ensues. If you squint hard, you may think you’re watching “Heat” for a moment — no film will ever really top that shootout — but the illusion is broken once the film cuts to one of the thousand drone shots featured.
The camera work is actually pretty cool, but for every cool swooping shot comes an abrupt cut to the next shot. I cannot express how many times I wanted to see where that shot was taking us, whether it was through a bullet hole (which does happen at least once) or between pillars in a parking garage (the same movement is used in separate shots of the same thing).
Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza González are all solid in “Ambulance,” and the film is just absolute batshit mayhem. Gunshots, explosions, and adrenaline rushes are expected in Michael Bay films, and yet, it almost reaches a point of redundancy. Sure, it’s fun seeing ridiculous explosions, but the action is so mind-numbing and the dizzying camera work makes it hard to really keep track of what’s happening. Even the dialogue is cringe-inducing: “We’re a locomotive, we don’t stop!” being the highlight. It’s still a fun time that most can kick their feet up and enjoy — especially with drinks involved — but it will somehow make you appreciate the “Fast & Furious” franchise a little bit more.
Universal Pictures will release “Ambulance” on April 8.