Five minutes into the premiere of Ambulance, director Michael Bay ordered the projectionist to turn the film off. Still making his way back to his seat when the movie started, he wanted to make sure he was settled before he could enjoy the experience properly. He might have seen the film a dozen times already at every other European gala, but if there’s one thing Bay cares about, it’s his audience. “Sorry London!” he yelled from the balcony, sitting back down with his popcorn and a grin on his face.
Making a career out of wowing big-screen crowds since 1995’s Bad Boys, Bay defined the action aesthetic of the ‘90s and ‘00s with the whirly MTV camerawork of monster blockbusters like Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and Transformers – suddenly finding himself stuck in the middle of a pandemic without anything to blow up in slow motion. Quickly optioning an adaptation of a 2005 Danish thriller and picking up Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Candyman) between their own stalled projects, Bay now rolls out exactly the kind of quick, low-fi lockdown movie you’d expect him to make – blowing up half of Los Angeles and staging the biggest car chase of his career.
The whole film, in fact, is one giant chase. Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen star as siblings fleeing a botched heist in a hijacked ambulance in a plot (and an entire movie) that feels lifted straight from Bay’s old-school action days. Abdul-Mateen is Will Sharp, an ex-marine struggling to pay his bills who gets dragged into a bank job with his mad-eyed criminal brother Danny (Gyllenhaal). When the robbery goes wrong, the Sharp brothers find themselves tearing across town with a bleeding cop and a plucky paramedic (Eiza González) unexpectedly in tow.
Pitching the bantering brothers like his own Bad Boys, Bay’s latest is actually far closer in feel to Speed (the one ‘90s action movie Bay had nothing to do with). Gyllenhaal clearly loves losing his mind as the nice-guy/bad-guy with a mad streak, and Abdul-Mateen grounds it all in some kind of sticky morality, but it’s González that holds the film together from the backseat.
One hilariously silly surgery scene gives the film its gross highlight, but the film’s real set-piece unfolds almost continuously as Bay continues to probe his love of fetishised machinery and gratuitous violence. Now with his hands on a load of drone cameras, Bay doubles down on his usual eye-watering filming style to swoop even closer to the action – flying us over, under and through every crumpled windshield in some of the most visceral stunts of his career.
Baggy at 136 minutes yet still somehow directed with the frenzy of every five-star police alarm in Grand Theft Auto, Ambulance will please Bay’s fans the most. A whole lot of loud, twitchy, old-school action that’s tailor-made for shaking the bolts from cinema seats – it’s the kind of film anyone would want to sit right in the middle of the audience for if they’d made it.
- Director: Michael Bay
- Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González
- Release date: March 25