When one thinks of Michael Bay, explosions are sure to follow. The blockbuster director remains one of the few maximalist filmmakers in the industry, with a filmmaking style that many write off as tacky. Yet to know Bay’s filmography is to know the pleasures and tribulations of excess. While the films themselves create a salad of jingoistic libertarian ideals, he also has the ability to craft otherworldly visual splendor. Releasing this week on home video, Ambulance represents Bay’s best film in years. A character-driven film featuring questionable morals, an insane car chase through Los Angeles, and more one-liners than a cheap bar, Ambulance represents a return to form for the explosive-minded director.
When his wife requires surgery, veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) must go to his brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) for work. Danny runs his own crew, and while Will wants to stay away from a life of crime, his inability to care for his family has pushed him to the edge of desperation. Danny happens to be preparing for a new job, one that will more than cover Will’s needs. However, when things go sideways, the brothers find themselves hi-jacking an Ambulance to escape. As they drive through Los Angeles they must manage Cam (Eiza González), an EMT they’ve taken hostage.
For Bay, much of the last fifteen years have been spent in the Transformers universe. During that time, Bay released eight films, and five featured giant robots from another world. While those films certainly pushed Bay to go big, they also forced reliance on CGI. WIth Ambulance, Bay returns to a style closer to Pain & Gain and Bad Boys II. Not only does Bay return to fast-talking, joke-a-minute comedy, but he gets to throw in his spinning cameras to boot. However, the director breaks out some new tricks of note as well.
The last decade has seen advancements in filmmaking technology that Bay capitalizes on from the word go. His trademark cinematography is back, making Ambulance look more like a music video than a traditional blockbuster. This results in lens flares, extremely bright lighting, and sweat glistening off every character when Bay puts them in close-ups. However, he adds drone shots to his exterior repertoire, a move that puts his already fluid camera on steroids.
As if the visual madness was not enough, his actors come to play. As the screenplay makes references to multiple Bay films, including The Rock, Pain & Gain, and Bad Boys, Gyllenhaal kicks his intensity up to an eleven. He dives into the material and adds to the mania to already ridiculous line readings. No matter what he’s asked to say or do, Gyllenhaal is game. Gyllenhaal’s headfirst dive into the River of Ham yields amazing results. Papa Pacino would be proud.
Meanwhile Abdul-Mateen continues to build an excellent resume as a leading man. The script asks him to play the moral compass and straight man, yet there’s a devilish twinkle in the performance. While the screenplay seemingly seeks redemption for the man, Yahya adds enough subtext to make us wonder about his actual inclinations. He may be driven by a code, but when the chips are down, Yahya is more dangerous than anyone. With so much depth within a basic character, Yahya proves why he’s one of our future superstars.
While Ambulance may seem like a parody of a Michael Bay film on paper, it’s far more exciting. With the direction pushing teams to the limits with new camera tech, the cast also shows up to play. The energy crackles off the screen and we should all be happy that Bay still has something left in the tank.
Alan’s Grade: 8/10