A funny thing happened before my screening for Michael Bay’s newest film, Ambulance. During the pre-trailer commercials, a TV spot for Ambulance came on the screen, claiming that it has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of Michael Bay’s entire filmography. Except in their claim, the advertisers neglected to mention what the numerical value was. Knowing that it couldn’t be a coincidental error that they left it out, I quickly did my research and found that the score was 66%, which is a fine score, but nothing to brag about. But when you look at Bay’s other films, which include the dismal Transformers: The Last Knight at 15% and Bad Boys II at 23%, it becomes clear that the bar was really, really low.
And with that bar being set to the floor, Ambulance is able to haphazardly clear it as explosions and lens flares go off in the background in true Michael Bay fashion.
Michael Bay does not have the time or mental capacity to deliver human drama. Luckily, after years of trying to do just that in Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, Bay has finally thrown his arms up in the air and decided to triple down on giving the people what they want: pure adrenaline-filled mayhem (better known as Bayhem).
Ambulance has a plot as thin as a dryer sheet. If this were like 99% of the other films, that would be a major problem. But Bay is that 1% where it doesn’t matter what the story is, as it will almost assuredly be bad, as it still is here.
Will Sharpe (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a decorated war hero whose wife needs experimental life-saving surgery. His insurance won’t cover it, and he’s desperate for money. In his time of need, he looks to his adopted brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s followed in their father’s footsteps by becoming a career criminal. He’s looking to make one last score that could net them $32 million from a Los Angeles bank. Despite his reservations, Will agrees to help out in return for a portion of the cut. Of course, things don’t go as planned and the brothers are forced to take an ambulance hostage that also has an EMT (Eiza González) onboard who’s trying to save the life of a wounded police officer.
By using addition by subtraction, Bay has cut out the usual fat in his films and delivered one of his leanest films to date. The whole setup for the heist takes less than five minutes, with the rest of the runtime devoted to the action. But just as the advertisers should include an asterisk when claiming this as Bay’s best-reviewed movie, I also need to use an asterisk when calling this Bay’s leanest film since it still comes in at a bloated 136 minutes. Nearly 20-25 minutes could have been shaved off without much detriment to the final product.
There are still the usual Bay fetishes here with explosions coming from every angle, guns going bang, and the American military being given the best recruitment commercial they could ever ask for. Bay has even found a new fascination with the drone camera, as he uses it to whirl and whizz around the action with dizzying effect. There’s no time for your brain to comprehend much of what’s going on as Bay takes your senses for a joyride.
Along with the carnage, what helps keep your eyes glued to the screen is Jake Gyllenhaal’s bonkers performance. His diet might as well consist of Red Bull and sugar every morning as he’s bouncing off the walls with manic energy, screaming nearly every line as he toes the line between being purely psychotic and a charming anti-hero. Abdul-Mateen II and González provide a nice fold to him as they try to keep things under control. When Bay’s previous films have contained performances like Ben Affleck’s in Armageddon and uh… Ben Affleck’s in Pearl Harbor, it’s truly something to see decent work here.
Just like the roller coasters at amusement parks, every theater showing Ambulance should have a warning stating that people with medical conditions should not see this movie. And if you are up to the challenge, make sure to grab your free T-shirt that says “I survived Michael Bay’s Ambulance and all I got was this lousy shirt” on your way out.