‘Ambulance’ Review: Michael Bay’s Best Film (for what it’s worth)

WARNING: Do not see this film in IMAX unless you are in possession of powerful migraine medication.

Michael Bay has made a watchable film. Truly chaos reigns in 2022. Actually a remake of a 2005 Danish comedy film, here played as earnestly as Bay is capable of getting, this is a good film in spite of Michael Bay’s worst instincts making themselves felt.

We have a strong premise. Two desperate bank robbers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) hijack an ambulance whilst fleeing the police, holding a paramedic (Eiza Gonzalez) and a wounded cop (Jackson White) hostage. We have real stunts and practical effects that are exciting and mostly visible. We have good characters, including perhaps the two best characters ever to appear in a Bay Movie, those of Gonzalez, who plays the cynical EMT with humanity and suppressed vulnerability, and Abdul Mateen II. Neither are needlessly exploited as is Bay’s usual way.

We also have some surprising representation of gay and minority ethnic characters in the supporting cast. Even some women in unconventional roles for a Bay film, IE not a sex worker. Bay crafts and realises an engrossing and exciting world of glass structures and hard streets that effectively invokes Michael Man’s LA. The potential for action and mayhem feels substantial and weighty.

However, we also have all of Bay’s weaknesses pressing in on this adequate crime film. His signature one size fits all approach to how to shoot a scene that makes everything seem vulgar and obnoxious, a la Zack Snyder. His fast cutting, obtuse and distracting camera positions and movement, and unbearable shaky cam are incredibly off-putting. The most hilarious effect of which is that you can never actually tell when the ambulance has stopped moving.

Bay’s comic relief is, as always, ear gratingly unpleasant, completely spoiled by how tone deaf Bay is, putting together moments of tension, comic relief and sentimentality with no filmmaking technique to differentiate them. Everything is threatened by Bay’s terrible pacing. He has no idea how to pull the audience along with tension and release, he just throws everything against the wall, but more sticks here than ever before.

The film is all of Bay’s weaknesses but dialled down just enough that a compelling and entertaining action movie can emerge. It’s a fascinating opportunity to understand what Bay’s fans actually liked about him in the first place. Perhaps had any one of his other films over the past twenty five years scaled back on the awful comedy, the obscene objectification of his subjects and unwatchable camera movement and editing, we may have sooner discovered just how mildly diverting he can truly be at his best.

Three Stars

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