Ambulance – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell
In cinemas March 25th
This being a Michael Bay film you already know it’s going to be full of explosions, car chases and frantic camera work. This is based on the 2005 Danish film of the same name by Laurits Munch-Petersen and Lars Andreas Pedersen but the action is transferred to Los Angeles. And as the title suggests that action is set in an Ambulance.
Gyllenhaal plays Danny Sharp, a bank robber who coerces his adoptive brother Will (Abdul-Mateen II) into working a huge heist with him. Unfortunately, despite Danny’s meticulous planning, he hadn’t allowed for a lovelorn LAPD officer pining for one of the bank tellers. He has decided to bite the bullet and ask her out and when he demands entry to the bank it sets off a chain of events that sees him shot and held hostage in the ambulance of the title as fellow hostage, paramedic Cam (González) tries to keep him alive while Danny and Will lead the LAPD on an epic chase across the city.
At 136 minutes this comes in at over an hour longer than OJ Simpson’s famous chase back in the 90s. And that felt long at the time. This does somewhat take the premise and eeek every last drop of life from it. The chase is punctuated by numerous pile-ups and crashes as the criminals lead the cops on a merry chase just before rush hour is due to hit the city. It looks like every cop in LA has been engaged in the pursuit so there are plenty of opportunities to run people off the road and smash ‘em up.
This aside there are some good performances despite a very weak script. Writer Chris Fedak has tried to ensure that every character has a sympathetic back story but this feels a bit forced and you don’t really find yourself caring that much about what else is going on in their lives. This is despite the fact that we are clearly supposed to empathise with Will who only got involved in the heist to raise money for an operation for his wife. It feels thrown out there as a motivation rather than a fully explored facet of his character. And many of the peripheral characters are written as clichés so why would we care?
Gyllenhaal (who has proven to be a fine actor in the past) seems to have adopted a method that involves shouting a lot while looking intense. Perhaps it’s just his recent choice of roles but I don’t remember him doing anything challenging recently and this is no exception. Abdul-Mateen II and González do have brilliant chemistry and also completely elevate their rather thinly written characters. However, the idea that someone who looks like González would be a paramedic in LA, a town where every pretty girl is a wannabe actress, is somewhat hard to believe.
If you approach this as what it is – a Michael Bay film – it is a pretty entertaining romp. It’s not reinventing the wheel and will give action fans exactly what they want. If you try and approach it as a serious drama it does fall short. But as a (slightly too long) popcorn movie it has enough edge of your seat moments to keep you engaged despite the shouty acting and the claustrophobic setting.