Ambulance. MA15+, 136 minutes. Two stars
I can just hear the Hollywood pitch meeting for this gangster car-chase Jake Gyllenhaal film going something like this.
"Imagine Speed, only Sandra Bullock has just robbed a bank and the bus is full of wounded cops."
"Who's directing?" asks the studio boss.
"Michael Bay!" announces the film producer.
"Here's 100 million dollars!" says the studio boss.
This vacuous and racy film is targeted at a very certain demographic, and that demographic is boys who love films with endless wasteful car chases and explosions, and who love Michael Bay films.
Across a single day, we follow Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a veteran who has seen service in Afghanistan but who is now struggling to put bread on the table, much less afford the expensive cancer treatment his wife (Moses Ingram) needs.
Looking for any paying job, Will turns to his brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), a career criminal who is that very day planning what might be Los Angeles's biggest bank heist of all time.
Will finds himself the driver for a robbery of the Federal Bank, but Danny's planning is ruined when a love-sick cop, Zach (Jackson White), walks into the middle of the heist because he wants to flirt with one of the bank tellers, getting himself very shot.
The brothers end up in a get-away ambulance with one of its paramedics, Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), as their hostage and while they flee from most of the Los Angeles police force, she is on the phone with a surgeon ex-boyfriend taking advice about stitching the bleeding and dying Zach.
On their trail are LAPD's Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and the FBI's Agent Clark (Keir O'Donnell), and a militia of squad cars and helicopters.
Bay has a devoted audience, pretty much all male, who have over-identified with his cinematic excess in sci-fi films like Armageddon and Transformers or blokey heist films like The Rock. That audience is still out there and after two years of being locked up in COVID world, they probably need Bay's guns-akimbo excess more than anything. For the rest of us, though, this much excess - millions and millions of dollars being spent blowing things up, smashing cars, for a few seconds of film - feels a bit gross.
The film suffers under a rambling screenplay penned by Chris Fedak, but what is surprising about the film's writing is that it is actually a remake of a decent Danish film called Ambulancen by Laurits Munch-Petersen. That film was a tightly-paced 80 minutes, but at 136 minutes, its American cousin is as bloated as I was after the first COVID lockdown.
This stolen ambulance covers much of the same ground as the bus Sandy Bullock drives through the LA freeways, the ramps, the cloverleafs, the concrete Los Angeles River we cinematic audiences are familiar with from Grease and Terminator 2.
What is worth your time is Bay's endless invention filming the ride and trying to maintain the pace, with Roberto De Angelis's cinematography working the case for the prosecution.
Lorne Balfe's music is unfortunately overwrought at times, with small dialogue scenes treated to the same sense of pace, musically, as the action scenes.
The peripheral characters are fun, with Dillahunt given some of the film's best lines, and Bay isn't afraid to be amusingly self-referential. It takes most of the film to realise that its star isn't Gyllenhaal, but the sassy paramedic played by Gonzalez, unrecognisable from her breakout role as the animated cyborg in Alita: Battle Angel.
While I've mentioned Speed a few times already, the film also gives more than a mere nod to Michael Mann's Heat and probably a few dozen other films.
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