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Michael Bay's Ambulance Leaves You Breathless

Two men, one black and one white, talk while holding weapons
[L-R] Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as WILL, Jake Gyllenhaal as DANNY in AMBULANCE

In the movie world, the name Michael Bay carries baggage and generates images of big, loud, bombastic explosions on a loop. Yet, there's something to be said for doing a particular thing well. Before Michael Bay got mocked on season 3 of Robot Chicken (the same year that Transformers was released), he made a reputation for himself with action-packed blockbuster hits like Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. In many ways, Ambulance is a return to form that made those films so enjoyable. Yes, that includes pyrotechnic delights but also large ensemble casts packed with delightful characters, wise guy humor, and an eye for spectacle. Most importantly, in Michael Bay's films, the lines between good guy and bad guy often get blurred. Viewers choose who to root for, not because of the badge a character wears, but because of the choices they make during the course of the story and who they serve – themselves or a greater cause.

With screenplay written by Chris Fedak, based on the Danish film Ambulancen written by Laurits Munch-Petersen and Lars Andreas Petersen, Ambulance takes place over the course of one day in Los Angeles. Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) desperately needs to raise some cash to pay for his wife Amy's (Moses Ingram) upcoming surgery. Running out of options, he contacts his adopted brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), a career criminal, for a chance to earn some quick cash. Danny has other plans – he wants Will to help him rob a bank for a $32 million payload. Against Will's better judgment, he agrees. Everything goes terribly wrong, of course, and police officer Zach (Jackson White), ends up shot and in need of medical attention. Enter the titular ambulance, manned by Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonz├ílez), the best EMT in the business, rumored to be able to keep anyone alive for at least 20 minutes. With Danny and Will surrounded, Danny masterminds a plan to use the ambulance as an escape route, with Cam and Zach as hostages and collateral.

a woman in an EMT uniform
Eiza Gonzalez as CAM in AMBULANCE

The stakes run high with Cam, driven by duty to keep Zach alive, with Will, determined to get home to his wife and child (hopefully with the cash in hand), and with Danny, determined to avoid capture at all costs. Meanwhile, no Michael Bay film is complete without an equally colorful cast of supporting characters. SIS Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt), playing the salty authority role, coordinates the apprehension plan, later joined by both FBI Agent Anson Clark (Keir O'Donnell), who has a past connection to Danny, and Lieutenant Dzaghig (Olivia Stamblouliah), the sassy police aviator, who swaps quick quips with Monroe like Rosalind Russell. Meanwhile, Danny calls in some of his own associates to help thwart the chase, Papi (Adolfo Martinez) and his son Roberto (Jesse Garcia).

Ambulance is a non-stop action-packed thrill ride with a dizzying amount of kinetic shots that keep viewers feeling in motion from start to finish. Even before the ambulance pulls up to the curb, Bay, assisted by director of photography Roberto De Angelis (the pair worked together on 13 Hours), has viewers plunging down skyscrapers and around the concrete and steel city in all directions via drone technology. Like in Jan de Bont's Speed, staying in motion becomes the difference between life or death. "We're a locomotive. We don't stop," Danny declares. While law enforcement does their best to put an end to the chase, what goes on in the ambulance adds just as much suspense to the proceedings. Cam, Danny, and Will all must make split-second decisions as to how they will handle the pressure. From performing an emergency surgery using a three-way Facetime to avoiding apprehension by Officer Zach's vengeful partner (Cedric Sanders) to driving without crashing into any numbers of barriers Monroe and his team attempt, Ambulance drives up the ante with a palpable adrenaline rush until the very end.

An English mastiff and a man in a car
[L-R] Nitro as himself, Garret Dillahunt as CAPTAIN MONROE in AMBULANCE
Bay attempts to inject comedy into the story with groan-worthy corny jokes voiced by the Gyllenhaal, but the few laugh-worthy moments come from situational humor that takes the form of  sweet and adorable cameos from Michael Bay's dog Nitro (an impressively sized English mastiff) and a fruitless attempt by Danny and Will to relieve tension with a brief sing-along duet of Christopher Cross's "Sailing."

Two helicopters attempt to apprehend an ambulance
Two helicopters follow the ambulance through the Los Angeles Riverbed in AMBULANCE
Like in most action flicks, character backstories take a back seat to the thrills, but the writers attempt to humanize all of the main characters through swift and effective reveals. Danny and Will have a connection as brothers that time can't unravel. Despite their different paths, their loyalty to each other is undeniable. Meanwhile, Cam projects an image to her co-workers of not really caring about the people she rescues, but her hardened exterior may be just a front. Viewers will be along for the ride, and eager to see how it all plays out. At some point, you know the chase has to end, but each time Danny and Will thwart the authorities, it's hard to be too disappointed. Gyllenhaal acts with a lot of charism, and we understand why Will goes along with his antics. Meanwhile, Abdul-Mateen plays a character we want to root for, due to his inherent goodness, even if he allows himself to be manipulated by his toxic friend. And González has her hands full, playing a hero on all levels.

While Ambulance doesn't offer any new surprises to the action thriller genre, it's an effective and immersive experience. Like a good thrill ride at an amusement park, Ambulance leaves you breathless, but once it's over, you return to normal life unchanged.

Release info: In theaters April 8th

Final score: 3.5 out of 5