(Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt, et. Al | R | 2 hr. 16 minutes | Universal Pictures)
Overview: Two robbers steal an ambulance after their heist goes awry.
Verdict: “Ambulance” is an assault on the senses!
No, that’s not a good thing, but realistically speaking, when it comes to Michael Bay movies, it’s to be expected. After the first two “Bad Boys” flicks and three “Transformers” movies, it’s not difficult to predict the coming of apocalyptic explosions and epic car chases.
Except with “Ambulance,” and the director’s most recent film made for Netflix, “6 Underground,” we get Bay telling Bay: “Hold my beer.”
As told with his herky-jerky, rat-ta-tat-tat film style, including Flash-like edits, he takes all of those attributes to a ridiculously high level. It proved so distracting at one point, I turned to another movie reviewer and asked if he was as dizzy as I was. For the record: the reviewer answered in the affirmative.
But usually a Bay film entertains. The first “Bad Boys” capitalized on the natural chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to draw an audience, and the first “Transformers” film showed a fondness for the classic cartoon while allowing Bay to blow things to kingdom come and, yes, it was a thorough thrill.
“Ambulance” represents a different breed. In this story of brothers Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the movie is relentless in its pursuit of thrills. It is nothing more than one long car or — in this case — ambulance chase involving police cruisers, which may as well be crashing around in a demolition derby.
These two unlikely brothers have a long criminal history together that ended when Will went to the Marines to go straight. Of course, Danny did no such thing and has chosen a life as a highly skilled bank robber.
Going straight, however, hasn’t gotten Will ahead. Danny catches him at a vulnerable moment as he’s battling an insurance company to pay for an operation for his wife that it deems experimental and won’t cover.
He gets a call from his brother for one big $32 million score that Danny believes he’s set up perfectly. Of course, he hasn’t.
First of all, he’s hired a crew of intellectually challenged meatheads and then nothing goes to plan as they first mistakenly shoot a cop while fleeing a bank and then hijack the ambulance sent to rush that officer to the hospital. They are forced to kidnap the EMT, Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), charged with keeping the cop alive. From there, “Ambulance” becomes one long chase sequence of varying speeds and differing absurdities.
It wouldn’t be a Bay film without the absurd and what makes “Ambulance” minimally tolerable in some instances — few they may be — is the cast. Say what you will about his films, Bay always secures talented actors to appear in them.
Gyllenhaal has led several critically acclaimed projects in his career, including the creepy “Nightcrawler” while Abdul-Mateen (“Watchmen,” “Candyman”) is an actor who continues to rise.
And the advantage here: They provide the moments where “Ambulance” succeeds. Bay, directing from a script adapted by Chris Fedak from the Danish film “Ambulancen,” explores this duo’s complicated backstory, giving the audience something more to chew other than the gunplay, the chase and cruiser crashes.
Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen have produced a comfortable interplay in their portrayals, where it’s not difficult to buy into the notion that they are indeed brothers. There isn’t enough of that element presented while Bay instead chooses to rely on ridiculous plot points that would be better served up in a “Fast and Furious” film.
“Ambulance” represents a good idea looking for a script. [GMT]