Year: 2022
Studio: Universal
Director: Michael Bay
Producer: Michael Bay/Ian Bryce
Writer: Chris Fedak/Laurits Munch-Petersen/Lars Andreas Pedersen
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, Eiza Gonzalez

Back when the original Transformers came out in 2007 I attended a press conference in Sydney where Michael Bay and Megan Fox were promoting it and I got to ask him why so many critics hated him.

There was a pervasive sense back then of how Bay's movies scored big with teenagers but how the cineaste establishment rejected everything ab out the aesthetic he made his own.

I took issue with accusations of him being a hack and even wrote an impassioned article for one or other of the free outlets I contributed to back then telling readers it was still okay to like Michael Bay because, no matter how misogynistic or macho the content of his films, there was no denying his skill as a filmmaker. In fact he had such a distinct style I argued he could be thought of as an auteur.

When the marketing for Ambulance started up I was getting a very different sense, with people all over social media extolling the virtues of a good action flick done by a guy who had proven chops in the genre.

When it failed to find an audience, making back only $52m from a $40m budget, I saw a very snarky tweet from someone in the industry whose opinions I respect saying (and I'm paraphrasing) that Bay gave us a gift and we squandered it.

The implicit meaning that was movies had slowed to a trickle because of COVID, and we were getting a good, old fashioned, slick, bruising and muscular action romp to take our mind off the world's ills, and we threw it back in Bay's face.

Suddenly the world had turned upside down. Loving Bay's films wasn't just accepted but imperative if you were a film type, and his film flopped.

Historically low attendance because of closed cinemas might be the only reason why it spluttered because it adheres faithfully to everything Bay's always done well.

Just watch him stage and shoot what would be a simple two camera talking scene in any other movie, where the camera wheels around best friends and adopted brothers Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen III) in a roller-coaster circle. Even two guys talking is high octane action here.

It's also the highest of high concepts, based on a little known 2005 Danish thriller. Military vet Will desperately needs money for surgery for his wife's condition (and this is the second movie that's perhaps unwittingly about the American economic condition I've seen lately along with Emily the Criminal, albeit with the theme buried even deeper).

He goes to his best friend and adoptive brother Danny, who's still a career criminal (a life Will walked away from) to ask for help, and Danny convinces Will to join him on an infamous One Last Job, where they and a ragtag crew Will's not at all sure about will hit a bank holding $32m and Will can have more than enough for his wife's operation.

Once there and with everything going swimmingly, the fly in the ointment is a cop who has a crush on one of the tellers and aims to ask her out, so Danny has no choice but to pose as the manager and let him in so it doesn't arouse suspicion.

Of course it all goes wrong, Danny has to take the cop hostage along with the rest of the staff, and the crew scatters. While most of them battle it out on the streets above with an elite police unit (I didn't really understand how they were connected to the case), Danny and Will swipe an ambulance that has the now-injured lovelorn cop and two paramedics inside.

They kick out the driver and take his partner, Cam (Eiza Gonzalez) hostage with the injured cop and take off. After that brief setup the entire movie is a protracted chase sequence of the two brothers and their hostage trying to stay ahead of what seems like every asset the LAPD has sent after them by means of road, air and electronic surveillance.

The cops, including their high tech plainclothes ranks, a criminal gang Danny occasionally works for and eventually the FBI itself all take part, Danny and Will struggling not to crack under the pressure of the chase and Cam trying to keep the critically wounded cop alive and figure out how to get away with her life at the same time.

It throws the bare bones of human drama in amongst entire squads of cop cars crashing, things exploding, helicopters flying under LA's famed river bridges and there are even moments of wry and unexpected humour thanks mostly to Gyllenhaal, and it works as perfectly as any action movie Bays' ever made.

It's the kind of movie that would have had critics hating him all over again a decade or so ago, and if you're a fan of his signature style you'll have a great time.

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