“Ambulance” – La-La-Land.
It shouldn’t take long into a viewing of Ambulance for you to realize you’re getting a movie that had approximately three minutes of thought put into its screenplay. For reasons that make absolutely no sense, the title highlights the “LA” part, as if it matters even a tiny bit what city this ridiculous movie takes place in. It’s a two-hour ambulance chase. If that didn’t click for you, I’m sure it did when “Directed by Michael Bay” splashed across the screen. One fellow critic lamented losing IQ points after the film concluded, to which I replied “No you didn’t. You locked those IQ points in a safe before this movie even started.”
(SPOILER ALERT – It’s Michael Bay. Everything explodes. You’re welcome.)
Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) can’t get the VA to pay for his wife’s (Moses Ingram) experimental surgery. We don’t know why she needs the surgery, but she’s holding a baby and Will is a retired Marine, so we are contractually obligated to root for Will. Just ignore the part where he lies to his wife about getting the money, right before he lies to her about not going to meet his bank-robbing, adoptive brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). Should we stand or should we kneel?
At Danny’s place of business, Will and Danny quickly catch up, then Will asks Danny for a loan. Rather than agree to the loan, Danny invites Will to be a part his next bank heist. At first, Will is like “naaawwwww bro,” but Danny convinces him by revealing that all of Danny’s money has been invested in the new heist. Nevermind that Will walked through a garage filled with millions of dollars’ worth of exotic cars – would Will’s own brother really lie to him the way Will lies to his wife? Now, Will is like “yaaawwwww, bro.”
Not even ten minutes into this film, we get into the bank heist. Most heist movies feature lengthy scenes in which the plan is explained to the viewer, the various team members are introduced, and sometimes we even get montages of practice runs. Not Ambulance. Michael Bay doesn’t have time for that shit. Not when there are car chases to be had and shit to be blown up. The only things we know about this heist are the potential score is $32 million, the team is filled with a bunch of veterans with a bunch of guns, and, according to Danny, there is no way they can pull it off without Will’s help, despite Danny spending months planning the heist without Will in mind.
I’m going to dwell on this obvious lack of planning because we will be told later in the film by FBI agent Clark (Keir O’Donnell) that Danny has successfully robbed thirty-two banks, due to his father being a famous bank-robber and Danny having attended PhD classes in criminology. They left out the part where Danny was a MENSA member and captain of the chess team, but that is implied by Danny’s last name being Sharp.
We join the heist mid-progress, Danny and Will have already taken hostages, when a cop (Jackson White) knocks on the bank door. Danny pretends to be the bank manager and escorts the cop in, clearly hoping to be rid of him quickly. Unfortunately, ultra-smart Danny botches the name of one of the tellers, the cop notices, and Danny quickly adds the cop to the group of hostages inside the bank. In parallel, the bank is being staked out by an anti-robbery team who has known about the heist well in advance, but whose plan is to apprehend the thieves when they exit the bank because it’s “safer.” This concern for safety is demonstrated in the clearest of Bay-esque ways when a massive gunfight breaks out in the street. That concern continues throughout the film as car after car is destroyed during the eponymous ambulance chase (we’ll get to this in a moment), resulting in all kinds of property damage and civilian injuries. I’m pretty sure “safer” is a relative term, if we’re relating it to the invasion of Normandy.
So much of this initial action sequence makes no sense. For all of Danny’s supposed planning, why is the getaway truck circling the block in anticipation of picking everyone up at the front door when the bank has a parking garage? The hostages are going to be tied up, right? So they can’t set off alarms, right? So you guys can escape undetected through the garage, right?
And why are they robbing the bank during working hours, when downtown traffic in LA will most definitely be approaching the fifth circle of hell? What’s that? It’s before working hours? Then, why is the cop knocking on the bank’s door during working hours? Banks famously open at nine o’clock in the morning – we’re well into rush hour. Except, the special anti-bank heist team later tells us they have to capture Danny and Will before rush hour starts. All of this makes as much sense as Will firing his gun to scare the cop by pointing his gun directly at said cop and firing. Remember, we’re contractually obligated to root for Will, so ignore the part where Will is a decorated soldier who knows how to handle a weapon; he definitely didn’t mean to shoot the cop.
That entire nonsensical scene was contrived to put Danny and Will in an ambulance with a seriously injured cop and attending EMT, Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), as hostages. The rest of the movie is literally a two-hour chase scene in which Cam becomes the hero of the film, Danny screams at everyone at random intervals, a dumb chief (Garret Dillahunt) says words meant to convince us of his and his team’s awesomeness while the movie proves him wrong, the dumb chief not destroying the ambulance because of the injured cop (he has no apparent concern for the EMT) while showing barely any concern for all of the other cops crashing their cars, a tech support cop berating anyone who even thinks about getting Cheeto dust on her electronics, and not one, but two helicopters equipped with infrared tracking, following the ambulance and causing us to wonder why these idiot cops keeping wrecking their cars in ill-fated attempts to corner the ambulance. Can’t the helicopters just follow the ambulance until it stops or runs out of gas while the ground vehicles follow at a safe distance? You’re right – it sounds absurd when I say it out loud.
If there is one thing we can say about Michael Bay movies it’s that you won’t be falling asleep during them. Despite the film being insultingly stupid and featuring characters that all deserve to be punched in the crotch, you’ll stay engaged for the same reason people watch reality television – to find out what the train wreck looks like at the end. I would not hold it against anyone for enjoying Ambulance in the same way people enjoy Fast and Furious movies. It’s an adrenaline rush that overwhelms your brain to the point where you will root for Will and Cam, ignore the fact that it’s never not rush hour in LA, and laugh at the part where Cam clamps a burst spleen with her hair clip. After all, we’re contractually obligated to.
Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back because you still have those IQ points you socked away.