Someone call an ambulance for the film, it doesn’t feel good…
Technically speaking, Ambulance is awful. Much like director Michael Bay’s earlier work, it’s a poorly-paced, choppily-edited, cringingly-acted, and borderline-incoherent mess of a film. But I regret to say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I’m sorry, but I really did – this is now on my guilty pleasure list. It’s a trash B-movie directed by Hollywood’s most unapologetic director, and as someone who walked in not giving a single damn, I felt oddly welcome in a film where clearly no-one else gave a damn making it.
Now, that’s far from an endorsement, and I’ll happily acknowledge that not everyone has the same love for hot garbage as me. In fact, Ambulance had the most people I’ve seen walk out of a film in years. To be honest, that only added to the humour of the day.
I don’t have any great love for Michael Bay – to this day the only film I have ever fallen asleep during in the cinema was Transformers: Age of Extinction. I don’t have any love for him for that matter, and regular count his films as some of my least favourite. But it is worth saying that some of his more grotesque hallmarks seem to have been phased out in Ambulance.
For instance, I could only count one or two instances lead actress Eiza González was leered at grossly by the camera. There was only one particularly garish instance of product placement, in this case Jake Gyllenhaal harping on ad nauseum about how much he likes his new Keurig. He’s also stopped jarringly switching between aspect ratio shot-to-shot.
However, that still leaves so much that hasn’t changed. It’s clear that Ambulance was a tight, Speed-esque action thriller during its development, but the final product has Bay’s grubby little fingerprints over every element of production.
The dialogue is inane, repetitive, and seemingly improvised on the day. There’s not one likeable character in the picture, despite the best efforts of lead actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, bless him. Key characters in the story jarringly enter the picture far too late in the game, leaving you wondering if you missed something earlier in the blur of motion.
It’s far too long at 2hr 16mins, a runtime that weighs on you more and more thanks to the relentless pace of the film. Bay cranks everything up to 11 right at the start and keeps it there until the last few minutes. Throw in some hyperactive editing, and you end up with an exhausting mess.
There’s some fantastic sound design, stunts, and practical effects work on display, but a really awful CGI crash stands out (which even Bay has expressed disappointment with). I also don’t believe screens this big are ready for the kind of drone camerawork Bay employed for some shots, as they had my stomach heaving more than once.
My enjoyment of this film stems primarily from the chaotic goblin energy that Jake Gyllenhaal brings to the table. Ambulance is a fantastic showcase of what (thanks to the press circuit of Spider-Man: Far From Home) everyone has realised Gyllenhaal’s persona is.
He’s bugging his eyes out and half-screaming, half-stammering out his lines at a breakneck pace like a coked-up Keegan-Michael Key. I find this kind of unhinged raw energy extremely entertaining, but I can absolutely see it becoming exhausting to the uninitiated.
He’s responsible for delivering some of the funniest lines of the film, thanks in part to the sheer amount of energy he’s putting into delivering them. I think this, in part, stems from Bay’s direction. He’s a fast and uncompromising director, looking to get the shot done as quickly as possible and then moving onto the next, and as previous actors have noted, you either get with it or you get out of his way. That’s rarely meant as a compliment, but it seems Gyllenhaal can keep pace.
Besides him though, the film got several big laughs out of me, and I’m an introverted English man so you know I don’t do that often. Abdul-Mateen punching a guy unconscious (you’d need context) and a brief musical interlude had me howling, and the mounting number of destroyed cop cars nearly surpasses Blues Brothers.
At the end of the day though, Ambulance is still awful. It doesn’t deserve a full dissection of why and how – you need only look to Michael Bay’s filmography to understand. But if you’ve got low standards, too much time to kill, or a crush on Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s the fun kind of awful.