It has all the requisite amped-up car chases and explosion, but Michael Bay’s new movie is surprisingly nuanced at times.
When it comes to doing too much, director Michael Bay is king.
If he can destroy 86 cars in a chase scene instead of 53, he will. If he can hold for six seconds longer a slow-motion shot of a character being framed by the sunset, he will. If he can ask Jake Gyllenhaal to be 17 per cent more unhinged, he will.
Any Bay movie, and these include the transformers franchise, Armageddon, bad boys and 6 Undergroundwill be marked by excess, it’s an inevitability and you shouldn’t expect any different.
Bay’s latest, Ambulanceis all about taking it as far as it can go, and then taking four more leaps over that line, and while it’s wildly entertaining and gripping, it would’ve been a vastly better movie if it was 30 minutes and at least one subplot shorter.
Even so, for a Bay movie, it is surprisingly uncomplicated and you can forgive its indulgences because at least it kept you enthralled for the first 100 minutes with its ambitious, eye-popping stunts. And who doesn’t love a high-stakes car chase through Los Angeles’ labyrinthine freeways and streets?
Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a desperate man. A war veteran who served his country, he’s being fobbed off by his insurance company for his wife’s necessary surgery. Needing to find $231,000 to pay for the treatment, Will turns to his adoptive brother Danny (Gyllenhaal) for help.
Danny isn’t exactly an upstanding citizen, having followed in their criminal father’s footsteps. Will’s looking for a loan but Danny is offering an opportunity – a share in a $32 million bank robbery.
What was to be a simple heist – are any heists ever simple? – becomes complicated when a lovesick rookie cop (Jackson White) decides to drop in so he can ask out a teller. Chaos and a shootout ensues, and the cop is shot in the process.
Trapped, Danny and Will hijack an ambulance, which happens to be carrying the shot cop and Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), a highly competent but prickly paramedic.
On the run with their valuable hostages, the brothers use their wits to outsmart the closing dragnet, but Danny’s volatile personality and Will’s innate goodness becomes a point of conflict.
While it’s not as thoughtful as the other pair of recent bank-robbing brothers – Chris Pine and Ben Foster in Hell or High Water – Ambulance isn’t just testosterone extravaganza.
Ambulance is surprisingly nuanced at muddying up the ethics of whether Will and Danny are the good guys or the bad guys.
By giving Will a relatable motivation, it’s a character that lives in the grey, and because of his demonstrable love for Danny and vice versa, the audience finds themselves even barracking for a character that is clearly more a villain.
Of course, the real draw for a Bay enterprise isn’t the sentimentality or American earnestness – or, heavens forbid, all that self-serious slow-motion flag waving – it’s for the action.
And those action sequences are tight. There are cars crashing and flipping in almost every scene, while the gunfire exchanges are deftly choreographed. There’s not a lot of hand-to-hand combat but Bay and his cinematographer Roberto de Angelis ably handle the close-quarters action of the ambulance.
It’s only the vertical camera swoops that seem more showy than effective. And, as always, Bay doesn’t know how to end his movie without eight minutes of slow-motion character walks.
But there’s enough in Ambulance – way more than enough – for an unthinking, tune-out good time.
Ambulance is in cinemas from Thursday, April 6