AMBULANCE – Review
So, from this film’s title, you’re thinking it’s a “fly on the wall” documentary with the filmmakers doing a “ride-along” with EMTs on a typical day, full of drama and danger, right? Or maybe it’s a docudrama following a young emergency worker going from their training and studies right up to the first week of their hospital assignment (with maybe a romance with another “lifesaver”). Well, I can give a big “nope” to both presumptions. Sure, the title vehicle is the main focus of this film, but it’s the kind of loud, noisy, frenetic action thriller that we usually get sometime in the Summer. And was a multiplex staple of the 90s. Well just coincidentally (well, maybe not) this flick is directed by the “unofficial kingpin” of those blockbusters from that era (hey, if Adrian Lynne can come back with a sexy murder mystery, then…). So clear the aisle in the theatre and make room for a very fast AMBULANCE.
But it doesn’t all begin with that “hospital-on-wheels”. After a nostalgic daydream-like sequence of two young boys at playtime, the story shifts to the present as former soldier Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) is in “phone hell” trying to get medical coverage for his ailing wife. He needs that aid since he’s “between jobs”. A frustrated Will tells his wife that he’s going to the job center after she tells him that brother Danny has called (followed by her plea to not return those calls). Meanwhile, EMT vet Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez) responds to a gruesome car accident involving a pre-teen girl as her rookie driver tries not to faint. After a trip back to the hospital she tells him that her concerns end after those rescued leave the vehicle. Cut to Will who, naturally, shows up at the “car storage center’ run by brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). Will begs for a loan to cover the quarter-million procedure to save his wife. Ah, but Danny has a way for him to earn that…and a whole lot more. As if his “auto service” wasn’t shady enough, turns out that he’s put together a crew to grab some in-transit cash that’s being held temporarily at a downtown LA bank. Oh, that “grab” will net them 32 million bucks. Will agrees and is riding with the gang minutes later. Of course, things go sideways immediately. Will accidentally shoots a young cop, the getaway vehicle is destroyed, and the two brothers are fleeing on foot. Wouldn’t you know that Cam and her driver pick up the wounded cop, and are then hijacked by Will and Danny (after knocking out the driver). Thus begins a harrowing chase through the town via highways and side streets as the police try to stop them without endangering their ‘fallen brother”. A grizzled police captain (Garrett Dillahunt) must work with a preppy FBI agent (Keir O’Donnell) who has a personal connection to Danny. Meanwhile, he’s hoping to get some help from a pal of his late gangster father, a vicious criminal kingpin named Papi (A Martinez). With all the ensuing carnage and destruction can Cam keep her patient alive while also struggling to survive the desperate duo?
Oh, Mr. Gyllenhaal, you should be more selective than this. To be fair he does imbue Danny with lots of energy, swinging from motor-mouthed snarky goofball to hair-trigger lunatic. But really, didn’t you learn anything from PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME? Sure he’s believable as a whipsmart hustler, though his frenetic delivery just wears out its welcome. Mateen II is the calmer, more reflective counterpart, sort of “good thief/bad thief”, but he’s either tortured by guilt or straining to reign in Danny while matching his level of histrionics. Gonzalez breaks out of the “eye candy” mold as the often cynical healer who knows that she’s “in over her head’ trying to keep her “charge” alive, appealing to Wil’s “better angels”, and defusing Danny’s white-hot temper. She’s the anchor for the story’s many ludicrous missteps. An equally excellent supporting player, Dillahunt, has little to do but grumble and squint as the grizzled “hardcase-in-charge”. who must trade verbal barbs with the arrogant “fed” played by O’Donnell as a prickly alarmist whose pleas fall on deaf ears (or maybe it’s just the nonstop noise). Martinez attempts to inject some humanity into the sinister gang boss, but he’s reduced to a final act subplot.
You know you’re in trouble when the film’s director “name-checks” two of his previous films in the first 20 minutes. And that’s just what the aforementioned action flick impresario Michael Bay does. After finishing up five giant robot flicks, he’s back to trash loads of vehicles (makes THE BLUES BROTHERS look restrained) that can’t transform and speak. Well, their circuits might have overheated trying to process the clunky dialogue in the screenplay by Chris Fedak which adapts a 2005 Danish flick (no doubt much was lost in translation). The overworked Bay directorial touches are in overdrive here, almost to the point of parody. The big first reunion between the “brother’ has the camera in constant motion, spinning around the duo (pass the Dramamine). A few moments later, as the caper is put into motion, the millisecond editing begins its unending assault (I guess a shot can’t last more than two seconds). And now a new “toy” gets overused: the camera drone. Establishing shots must “loop the loop” before landing on the characters (more like cliches, really). The visual gymnastics are only briefly paused for a stilted scene in a therapist’s office involving a gay couple (now that’s some edgy comedy). It’s ham-fisted, heavy-handed, and just lazy (did I mention the infrared “body-heat” shots). The most jarring example may be from its final moments as we’re treated to another hazy silent “memory” of the brothers as boys playing “cowboy. Now there’s supposed to be, say 33 or 35, right? So were kids playing HIGH NOON in 1995, complete with a Sheriff costume that looks to be from the 1964 Sears catalog? That just adds to the irritation as this excruciating nonsense does its damage to our senses (think of a 137-minute pummeling to the head with a ball-peen hammer). After this endurance test (or torture) you might just wish your drive home from the multiplex was an AMBULANCE. Serenity…stat!!
1/2 Out of 4
AMBULANCE is now playing in theatres