Review: Michael Bay's 'Ambulance' is Extreme Action Extravagance
by Alex Billington
April 7, 2022
Everyone knows Michael Bay, and everyone knows what to expect from any Michael Bay movie. That's a given nowadays. Ambulance is Bay's 15th movie so far, and somehow even after all this time, he still hasn't evolved as a filmmaker. Everything he does is still about big explosions, big guns, big stakes, big car chases, big actors, big cameras. The only thing not big in this movie is the drones they use to fly around random places in Los Angeles. Everything else about Ambulance is as excessive and extreme as anything can get; of course there's explosions & gunfights galore. It's billed as Bay's "love letter" to Los Angeles, with the letters "L" and "A" turning different colors in the title sequence, for no other explainable reason than to boldly say "this movie is set in Los Angeles and Los Angeles gave us every resource to make it!!" More accurately, it's a love letter to the LAPD (ugh) as they bring everything to the table to try and stop these criminals on the run.
Bay's Ambulance features a screenplay written by Chris Fedak, his very first writing gig for a feature film (he has mostly worked in TV before this). Though it really feels like Bay wrote the script himself. So much of it is confounding nonsense much like most of Bay's action scenes, especially the scenes early on where Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Will shows up at some fancy warehouse in Santa Monica to meet his brother (uh sure, why not?) Danny, as played by Jake Gyllenhaal. They argue about random things before Will explains he needs a boat load of money to help his wife's medical problems, so, well, Danny convinces him to help him rob a bank. A major, downtown Los Angeles bank where they'll walk away with millions. Apparently this is normal for Danny, and for both of them, as their father was a famous bank robber, too (who used to be good at "getting away"). Off they go, guns blazing, with a plan that sort of works until it doesn't (does it ever…?). Then they steal an ambulance and off they go again, guns blazing again, now with the LAPD in hot pursuit.
There is absolutely nothing believable or plausible about this movie, but that is the point, not necessarily a bad thing. It's the ultimate escapism in that everything happening is absurd and presented in a way where we're supposed to be entertained and nothing more. Don't even dare to use your brain during the 2 hours, 16 mins run time because your mind will immediately clash with what's happening on screen. Bay's decadence is so overwhelming in Ambulance that it becomes distracting, with the swooping drones and vomit-inducing cinematography ultimately becoming more distracting than the plot of the movie. There's a moment where the movie starts to swerve towards Inside Man (which rules), with a plot twist that makes you wonder "oh okay, maybe they'll pull off this robbery and get away with it using some trickery?" Then veers again, down various side streets, even into the Los Angeles River for a few more confounding action scenes, and loses its focus on the one-and-only interesting twist in the entire script. You can probably guess what happens next.
Despite all this absurdity, I can't help but admit I did enjoy watching Ambulance. For the most part. Maybe it's because a heaping dose of Michael Bay escapism for two hours is actually a healthy break from all the heavy emotions and intensity of everything else going on in the real world. And because, yes it's true, after 15 movies Bay does know how to make an entertaining action movie. Even if it is especially dumb. Even bad movies can be entertaining. Nothing will ever top his early work: Bad Boys 1 & 2, The Rock, Armageddon – these are his best movies and it's time to stop hoping he will maybe make something as great as these ever again (though Transformers and Pain & Gain are pretty good, too). That said, Ambulance is Bay at his most extreme - everything he lives for as a filmmaker is on display in this (he even name-drops his own movies). Thankfully it's vastly better than 6 Underground, which was a stinking pile of jumbled-up action nonsense.
On one hand, Bay's Ambulance is the worst kind of action movie bonanza, filled with pointless drone shots, camera sweeps that will make everyone sick, based around a plot that doesn't make much sense other than wondering if the LAPD can catch them. On the other hand, Bay's Ambulance is a perfect example of all-out, big budget action movie insanity in a way that satisfies that gnawing desire for "I can't believe they did that" filmmaking. So much of the action still makes me wonder "how much did they pay to pull this off?" because DAMN that is nuts. The most disappointing and off-putting thing about this movie is how much it glorifies violence, with excessive gunfights and endless wanton destruction portrayed as happy-go-lucky big screen entertainment. Along with what seems to be a "look how cool the LAPD are" subplot with every last division of the military-esque police involved in some way - from snipers to helicopters to SWAT to beat cops. And they're not even good at stopping these guys for most of the movie. Bay will be Bay, nothing can stop him.