Review: Michael Bay goes big and retro in ‘Ambulance’

the speeding ambulance, a row of police cars in the back, Bay’s restless camera — nothing happens faster than character exposure.

Here’s Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen), a former Marine, on a frustrating phone call trying to get insurance approval for a life-saving surgery on his wife. As he doesn’t move forward, he kisses his wife (Moses Ingram) and his young son before running across town to Los Angeles to meet his brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). ). They haven’t seen each other in a while, but brief childhood memories of him suggest they have a deep connection. Will tells him he needs money, Danny says he has a job, but Will needs to go with him right now, right now, to steal $32 million from a federal bank. is he coming?

Will goes from hearing music on hold on the phone call to robbing a bank in less than an hour in the first five of Bay’s 136-minute film, and “Ambulance” doesn’t slow down from there. The bank robbery doesn’t go according to plan and, like Michael Mann’s “Heat,” it spills out onto the streets of downtown Los Angeles. In the chaos, Danny and Will run into the underground parking lot of a huge building with a cop (Jackson White) as a hostage. In the struggle, Will reluctantly shoots the cop. Being cornered by the cars that begin to descend into the parking lot, they sneak away stealing the ambulance that just took the same policeman. With a calm and highly professional paramedic (Eiza González) tending to the officer’s injuries, the brothers begin an all-day chase through Los Angeles.

In the sirens of “Ambulance” you can probably hear echoes from other movies. “Speed” (“Maximum speed”) and “Die Hard” (“Hard to kill”) are just a few lanes away from Bay’s film, which opens in theaters in the United States on Friday after its debut in March in several countries of Latin America, and also some previous films by the director. “Bad Boys” and “The Rock” have references to the beginning. It’s a bit like the resurrection of the spirit of a 90’s movie. Bring on the propulsive excesses of the past!

Does that make “Ambulance” a rehash of a family movie, increasingly obsolete and hyper-masculine? Or have we reached the point, in the midst of releases handling intellectual property more carefully, where nostalgia has taken over extravagances with implausible scripts fueled by testosterone and the sound of everything?

Both things are somewhat true. “Ambulance” leans toward a slightly violent, visceral style of filmmaking that doesn’t stop to answer too many questions. And while Bay’s movie wouldn’t stand up to much questioning — this is a movie where a ruptured spleen is treated with a bobby pin — it’s hard to deny his escapist charm. He has a gripping glory and gonzo. Bay knows how over the top this kind of movie needs to be, and he sets the pace with an abiding fondness (and plenty of drone shots) for Los Angeles. Framed by the city’s freeways and Art Deco architecture, this is Bay’s “La La Land,” only with explosions instead of song and dance.

For Bay, and perhaps only for Bay, “Ambulance” is a relatively small and restrained film. Alongside such films as “Armageddon” and the “Transformers” films, “Ambulance” was made on a surprisingly modest $40 million budget. The downside of this is that the director, as if nervous because the film lacks scale, can’t stop moving his camera all the time. All this smug and aggressive escalation of drama has the reverse effect of never allowing the tension to take over. Another filmmaker might have made a cleaner, less hyperactive version of “Ambulance.” The film, which was written by Chris Fedak, is an adaptation of another accelerated film of 2005 of the same title, by Danish filmmaker Laurits Munch-Petersen.

Bay, who was itching to film during the pandemic, made “Ambulance” early last year, and I think kinetic energy owes something to that seeming urge to get out there, drive cars really fast, and make a film. Perhaps the least believable aspect of the film is how empty the streets of Los Angeles look. For a film with so many stunts, it feels like something that wasn’t planned, for better and for worse.

In my case, I think I never managed to understand the character of Abdul-Mateen. What we should feel about the brothers as anti-heroes is somewhat confused, too, given the number of people their flight seems to kill or cripple. Despite this, morality is cleverly played with. When the injured cop in the ambulance goes into critical condition, Will donates blood to him while he continues the chase. The good guys and the bad guys bleed together, you could say.

The loose nature of the film also gives the actors room to play. And a lot of the supporting actors are pretty good, especially Garrett Dillahunt as the police captain who leads the chase while keeping an eye on his dog, Nitro. González, who is quickly creating an entire automotive filmography with “Baby Driver” and the “Fast and Furious” spin-off movie “Hobbs and Shaw” (“Fast and Furious”). and Furious: Hobbs & Shaw”), keeps the antics of “Ambulance” grounded. But above all Gyllenhaal, as the cheerful and unstable thief in a turtleneck sweater, is having a great time. He is the manic engine that powers “Ambulance”.

“Ambulance,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for violence intense, bloody images and dialogues. Duration: 136 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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Jake Coyle is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP.

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