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‘Ambulance’ review: Dir. Michael Bay (2022) 

by Andrew Gaudion

We all had our own ways of dealing with pent up post-lockdown energy. Some of us finally decided to take up that new hobby we always told ourselves we would. Some of us were just happy to sit in a pub. And if you’re Michael Bay, you just really wanted to blow shit up again. 

The director is of course famous for his trademark Bayhem, setting off pyrotechnics and spinning his camera in ways not many other filmmakers would think to do. It makes sense that the man responsible for two Bad Boys, an Armageddon and five Transformers would get a little restless when cooped up inside, and was keen to find something to scratch his itch for celluloid destruction. 

That project turned out to be a one that had been doing the rounds in Hollywood for the last five years. Ambulance, a script by Chris Fedak based on a 2005 Danish film, filled the criteria for Bay; something that could be shot fast, relatively cheap but with plenty of scope for that all important Bayhem. The final product very much feels like the work of a director who had been getting fidgety sitting on hands, just bursting at the seams to get the opportunity to yell action once again. The result is Bay’s best film in years. 

Set in Los Angeles (otherwise known as LA, as the film will often remind you) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Will Sharp, a War veteran in desperate need of money to help pay for wife Amy’s (Moses Ingram) healthcare. With no options left, he reaches out to his adoptive brother, the hot-headed Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has followed in their father’s crime world footsteps. Danny is keen to help his brother, but only if Will agrees right there and then to assist in a $32 million bank robbery. However, everything quickly goes awry when the LAPD crash the party. Keen to make their escape, Danny and Will find themselves behind the wheel of an ambulance, carrying an injured police officer (Jackson White) and an EMT, Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), onboard as hostages. With pretty much all of the city’s cops hot on their tail, just how can the brothers get out of this mess, and will Danny be able to keep his cool? 

There is no beating around the bush when it comes to getting to the fireworks factory with Ambulance. It is quick to set up its characters and central relationships, setting up Will’s stakes in an efficient and economical fashion, before putting him in the pressure cooker that is his brother’s world lined with stolen cadillacs and the offer of a multi-million dollar heist. There is no moment to sleep on Danny’s offer, no time to ponder the repercussions, it’s get in the car and go. And boom, Bay’s swirling cameras (this time with added drone photography, courtesy of Alex Vanover, the world champion of the Drone Racing League) are in full motion. 

It is all incredibly intense and dialled up to 11 from the very first interaction with the brothers, but while it may seem chaotic, Bay is also very good at establishing a sense of jittery dread across the heist. The plan is not airtight from the moment we hear about it, and it is inevitable that it will go wrong, and wrong it does in a spectacular powder keg fashion as the film’s first in a series of ear-shattering gunfights takes place outside the bank. 

From there, the intense rhythm never lets up for Will and Danny, with their crew all taken out and Will regretfully shooting a police officer in the leg to help his brother. Once they’re all in the back of the ambulance with Gonzalez’s Cam, the film doesn’t let up with its chaos around the streets of LA, as Garret Dillahunt’s Captain Morgan (a ridiculous character and a very fun performance) leads the hunt to get the injured cop out safe, who is the only reason why Will and Danny don’t already have a bullet in their head. 

It is once we’re in the titular ambulance that you think the film might start to run out of gas in closer quarters. While there are only so many fruit stands you can drive into, it is surprising how inventive the sequences are in that cramped space, with one of the film’s best sequences involving an impromptu surgery guided by video chat.

It also helps that Gyllenhaal, Abdul-Mateen and Gonzalez are all incredibly watchable. Gyllenhaal puts in an intense performance that slightly echoes previous Bay leading men (namely Wahlberg) but is often responsible for some of the film’s funniest and most extreme moments. Abdul-Mateen isn’t intimidated by Gyllenhaal’s brashness, matching his intensity while also giving the film a solid core for the audience to hook on to. Gonzalez as well does well to inject some heart into the chaos; who doesn’t love a hero simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? 

While the film does push its own limits with a runtime clocking close to 140 minutes, there is no denying that this is the most thrilling movie Bay has made in quite some time. He is still guilty of dabbling in some of his less endearing trademarks – namely aggressive chauvinism and racial stereotyping – but it is refreshing to see Bay work out his frustrations with a rock solid action movie concept rather than another robots in disguise exercise. It harkens back to 90’s actioners like Speed and even his own Bad Boys and The Rock (both of which get namechecked here in a rather fun self-deprecating manner), which feels like a wave of fresh air in the current IP driven blockbuster landscape. 

It’s far from perfect, with the pacing of the story designed to stop you thinking about the preposterous nature of it all, but you’ll be too busy getting wrapped up in the anarchy thanks to the sheer amount of angles, camera spins and swooping drone shots that provide the action, in occasionally startling abstract ways. The amount of coverage Bay shoots for his action scenes has always been impressive, and that is on full throttle display here, bolstered by the practical action and stunt work. There’s nothing quite like seeing real cars fly and metal crash and warp into each other to provide edge of seat thrills up on the cinema screen. 

Ambulance is a frenetic piece of work, an exercise in bombastic thrills designed to make you feel like you’re being thrown around in the back of that emergency vehicle with the core cast. It’s a visceral, bloody, thrilling and breathless piece of entertainment. See it big and see it loud: the Bayhem demands it.  


Andrew Gaudion



Bay’s best film for years; a visceral, bloody, thrilling and breathless piece of entertainment


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