Ambulance (2022) — A Michael Bay Affirmative Statement
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González Reyna
Instead of reading, “A Michael Bay Film,” the moniker above AMBULANCE should read: “A Michael Bay declarative statement.” An apt description for Bay’s latest brash, and bruising raid on the sense — they sure don’t make ’em like they used to, huh?
AMBULANCE harkens back to a pre-marvel timeline int he early aughts when one-off action blockbusters were readily available. A viscerally rendered homage to that heady moment when anything flung unto the silver screen promised box office returns. To that end, the movie also feels slightly antiquated.
How antiquated? Think back to action movies like PAIN & GAIN, MAN ON FIRE, and SHOOTER. In other words: films not tied to existing screen properties — original stories told on a massive scale. Films that revel in practical effects; feature stars at the apex of their celebrity; commanded attention across regional markets. Bay, the once singular God-king of the action blockbuster, feels compelled to revisit whatever semblance of superiority he enjoyed in those days when a certain kind of film commanded attention.
Eiza González Reyna plays a first-responder trapped between a rock and a hard place in a race to save a man’s life. Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal portray adoptive brothers leading lives on opposing sides of the law. The former is a decorated war veteran in desperate need of cash for his family. The latter, a prolific bank robber with a prompt remedy for his brother’s financial woes. The score: 32 million from the Los Angeles bank. High stakes, big rewards. But would a heist film be without things falling apart?
In true Michael Bay fashion, AMBULANCE doesn’t concern itself with narrative complication. It lays out a straight forward and uninhibited story marred on occasion by 11th hour plot contrivances and character introductions. Something to distract from the paper-thin characterizations that populate an admittedly over-long and simple premise.
And yet, despite it’s simplicity, AMBULANCE barrels through it’s 2+ hour runtime on adrenaline and sheer willpower alone. It’s totally unnecessary that we spend that much time with these caricatures in this situation, in that environment, on those crazy terms, for as long as we do. And I’m totally here for every minute of it.
Every gear shift, every wailing cop car, every crash-boom-bang down the ember-tinted majesty of Los Angeles’ heavily populated highways, is shot and mixed for maximum impact. It’s textural movie making on a scale unknown to the modern movie-goer. And, by extension, surely worth the price of admission.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. AMBULANCE can be described as passable when piled against the greatest in its weight class. But in a post-institutional, decentralized landscape in which films are shot in giant Atlanta hangers and nondescript buildings in Vancouver, AMBULANCE’S merits pierce through it’s faults. It’s emblematic of something lost. The thing we take for granted, nowadays: textural, old-fashioned filmmaking.
Consider it sad that I grade AMBULANCE on a curve, but understand that I love films, and the story of film, and the filmmaking process like nothing else. I yearn for a simpler time when radical filmmaking left you writhing in the movie theater. Remember those?
Catch AMBULANCE on Amazon video.