By Lynn Venhaus
An interminable wild and crazy car chase through the streets of Los Angeles all before evening rush hour, “Ambulance” is banking on viewers to throw logic out the window and be so eager for an explosion-filled action blockbuster that they will overlook the nonsense.
When a bank robbery goes horribly wrong, two brothers (Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) steal an ambulance with a wounded cop (Jackson White) and am EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) inside.
Even by director Michael Bay’s over-the-top standards, the frenetic pace turns tiresome. For two hours and 16 minutes, screenwriter Chris Fedak throws everything but the kitchen sink into the never-ending storyline. (But it’s not original – it’s based on a 2005 Danish movie, “Ambulancen,” written by Laurits Munch-Pedersen and Lars Andreas Pedersen).
As in the first “Bad Boys” that put Bay on the cinematic map in 1995 — after his lucrative award-winning advertising and music video endeavors, the two male leads are at odds with each other.
This time, its two brothers – one the unhinged bank robber Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is a chip off the old block, for dad was a psycho criminal mastermind, and the other, Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), adopted as a young boy, who has become a decorated war hero with a wife and baby. The family dynamic is key to their motivation.
Will’s wife Amy (luminous Moses Ingram) needs an experimental surgery that insurance won’t pay and they can’t afford, so he comes to his shady brother for a handout, but winds up as part of his hit squad to steal $32 million from a downtown bank.
Of course, it will go spectacularly awry, and we’re off on a harrowing journey where their brotherly bond will be tested while they argue and reminisce. And sing along to Christopher Cross’ “Sailing.”
The intense Gyllenhaal and compelling Abdul-Mateen are fine actors, but they can’t even save this drivel (or save face). The supporting cast is engaging as well, despite their caricature roles – hey, people need paychecks in pandemic times.
Eiza Gonzalez grounds the movie as best she can as Bay’s customary long-haired brunette female protagonist (look it up — Liv Tyler, Megan Fox). She plays Cam Thompson, a highly skilled paramedic but flawed human whose cool detachment from cases shows that she has ice water running through her veins.
Her character is tasked with saving the life of a rookie beat cop (Jackson White) who has been shot while they are taken hostage by the bickering brothers. She will learn to operate on the fly, tutored by surgeons on smart phones – while they are at the golf course.
Oh, the head-scratching doesn’t stop there. Every L.A. public safety team will be dispatched — patrolmen, undercover cops, SWAT teams, special units. And let’s not forget the feds – the FBI bank division agents.
The police team leader Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) has a gigantic dog named Nitro and eats Flaming Hot Cheetos while the reckless high-speed pursuit never slows down.
Newly promoted FBI division chief Anson (Keir O’Donnell) is in a marriage therapy session with his partner when he gets the call.
“Do they even rob banks anymore?” the therapist says. (This is what passes for humor).
Let’s now cue up the grizzled old-school Boomer chief vs. the uptight Millennial suit – who just happened to attend college with ruthless Danny.
How convenient! Every contrivance and every possible calamity will befall law enforcement while some will perish in explosions – all to save the young guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Let the argument about rose wine commence. And bring in pink flamingoes, quote a Sean Connery movie for love advice, and intersperse the action with childhood flashbacks.
And keep it extremely loud. Not only is Lorne Balfe’s music score the most annoying, tedious one of the year – yeah, I know it’s early, but every decibel is ramped up to 11.
The accelerated speed heightens the anxiety – do we really need more now at this time in our lives? Questionable decisions will distract (Wouldn’t Officer Zach be having a raging infection from a hairclip turned surgical aid? Wouldn’t the LA traffic be gridlocked most of the day? What’s with Bay and sun atmosphere shots? And how many cars crash here?)
The ex-Marine brother will come up with military tactics to keep them on the run while the bad boy bro will use his Mexican cartel connections to stay alive. The tattooed and scary looking thugs operate in a bridal dress warehouse where young teens are shopping for Quinceanera dresses.
If you have issues with motion sickness, you may want to think twice before putting yourself through Bay’s swooping, swirling shots. Now that he uses drones, beware.
Bay makes action-packed crowd-pleasers with signature big explosions — “Armageddon,” “Transformers” and “The Rock,” — but does this movie have to be chaotic and confusing?
Dialing down some of the ridiculous occurrences could have kept a tighter focus. The leads are appealing, but even they stretch credibility. One of Bay’s best films, “13 Hours,” is reality-based.
But I guess that’s asking too much — to veer off the familiar beaten path. This movie needs an escape hatch sooner than later.
“Ambulance” is a 2022 action-crime drama, directed by Michael Bay and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza Gonzalez, Jackson White, Keir O’Donnell and Garret Dillahunt. It runs 2 hours, 16 minutes, and is rated R for intense violence, bloody images, and language throughout. It opens in theaters on April 8. Lynn’s Grade: D.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.