Michael Bay. I can write the name, and if you are in the know about such things, there is one word that will come to mind: explosions. And more explosions. So. Many. Explosions. Take a look some time at his filmography on the International Movie Database (IMDb). You will not come across many quiet, character driven pieces. Instead, you will find titles like the Transformers franchise, The Rock (1996), and 13 Hours (2016). These are films that are more about seeing how much stuff can be set on fire, or crashed into one another, than getting an understanding of a plot. I do not mean to be too critical. There is an audience, it would seem, for such stuff. I am not one of them, but they do exist. Still, when he has a new movie come out called Ambulance, I steel myself for a whole bunch of nonsense and head to the theater.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, having nothing to do with the title of the film Ambulance, two young boys begin a friendship. Fast forward to when they are adults (I guess), and Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), evidently a veteran of some repute, is futilely calling people to get medical treatment for his wife, Amy (Moses Ingram), who has cancer. Added to his worries is the fact that he has had trouble finding work, and he has an infant son for which to provide. Getting nowhere with the healthcare industry, Will kisses his family goodbye, telling them that he is off to a job interview. On the way out, Amy warns admonishes that he better not be going to see his brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), and that they do not need anything from him. Of course, that is where Will is headed, but we will get to that in a moment. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, we are introduced to two Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) in an ambulance. They are the seasoned (one might say jaded) Cam Thompson (Eliza González) and her rookie driver Scott (Colin Woodell). I say jaded parenthetically for Cam because what Scott initially believes is simple skill and dedication her craft after they respond to a call, becomes callused when they go out for food afterwards and she coolly drinks a beer while shooting down the rookie’s desire for frienship. Back to our main character (I suppose), Will arrives at Danny’s place of business (whatever it is) and they embrace. They share some reminisces involving how Danny’s family took in Will, and it becomes clear that Danny and Will had once been criminals together, with Will being a wheelman for heists. Will is not interested in this life anymore, and is coming to Danny asking for a loan for Amy’s procedure. Danny wants to help, but he has something else in mind. There is a bank downtown with millions of dollars sitting inside waiting for them to steal. After some arm twisting, Danny convinces Will to be a part of the crew carrying out the robbery. We then shift to the bank, where the operation seems to be going swimmingly until Officer Zach (Jackson White) decides to knock on the door of the yet-to-open branch in an attempt to get the phone number of a teller on whom he has a crush. It is Danny, disguised as the manager, who (for some reason), decides to answer the door. Officer Zach enters under the pretense of wanting to open a bank account, but it quickly becomes clear that Danny is up to no good. In another head-scratching move, after they have filled their duffels with the cash, they decide to take Officer Zach hostage. This is when his partner, Officer Mark (Cedric Sanders), notices through the window that something is wrong, and everything devolves into chaos. Danny and Will, with Officer Zach in tow, try to flee out the back, while the rest of the gang shoots it out with the police in the street. This disturbance brings Cam and Scott to the scene. They decide to head to where the call had gone out that Officer Zach had been shot while struggling with Danny, Will being the one pulling the trigger. When they arrive, Danny and Will end up hijacking the ambulance, forcing Scott out but taking Officer Zach with them. From here, the movie gets really repetitive. At first, Danny and Will’s goal is to make it to a prearranged location where they plan to switch vehicles and make their getaway. Given the amount of law enforcement, including several helicopters (which, bafflingly, Danny is surprised by), this option seems not to be a viable one. In desperation, Danny turns to an old family friend and fellow gang leader, Papi (A Martinez), for assistance in exchange for some of the money. Together they devise a trap, with Papi’s men bringing a number of other ambulances to a place where they can then confuse the police with targets. This seems to work, but Papi’s son Roberto (Jesse Garcia) is killed while fleeing the scene. An enraged Papi blames Danny and Will, and threaten to kill them when they attempt to take shelter at Papi’s shop. Instead, Danny and Will end up shooting their way out and get back into the ambulance. While climbing back aboard, Cam accidentally shoots Will, and now a panicked Danny sees little alternative than to get his brother to the hospital. Once there, with all manner of police pointing firearms at the emergency vehicle, and Danny holding his own gun to Cam’s head, Will ends the situation by putting a bullet in Danny’s back, with Amy in the crowd of on-lookers. When Amy starts crying for someone to help her husband, Cam goes to Will and help carry him into the hospital. It is a nice gesture, though I would imagine that the thousands of dollars that Will asks Cam to give to Amy might have something to do with it. With Will in custody, and Amy and their son looking at him through a window, Cam walks off into the Los Angeles night.
There is a lot that I did not like about Ambulance. There is also much that did not make sense. Do ambulances not need gas? Why did every other shot need to be these sweeping, aerial-to-ground-level pan-ins, or the near constant circling of two character engaged in dialog? Can the camera not just sit still for five minutes? Is it really possible for an EMT (no matter how much medical training Cam had) to perform complex surgery on Officer Zach in the back of speeding ambulance? Yet, people do not watch a movie like this for the logic. They see it for the car chases and explosions. So many wrecked vehicles going down (or up) in a ball of flame. The amount of destruction done must have been half the budget. All the same, the thing that bugged me the most was Will. Honesty in difficult situations is, obviously, tough. You do not need to be a Christian to know, though the Bible will tell you along with a whole host of other traditions, that honesty is the best policy. I will credit Will for helping when he could, and being the one to make the hard decision to end the situation by killing his brother. At the same time, the guy is dishonest from the moment we meet him. Whenever I think about the importance of not lying, I think of the vows Balian de Ibelin (Orlando Bloom) made upon being knighted in Kingdom of Heaven (2005). One of these is to tell the truth, even under the threat of death, and it is witnessed by Church clergy. To lie is to sin, and sin is death. More specifically, it is a permanent death that, if unrepented, means that there is no coming back from it. Luckily, we have Confession and redemption, but neither should such avenues be taken for granted. As for Will, one could say that he is ultimately the good guy. At the same time, it does not sit well with me that he so casually tells untruths to Amy, even while driving down the road in a stolen ambulance with millions of dollars in the back. Forgiveness is a Biblical virtue, too, which Amy seems to be giving in the end. It just appears to me that Will did what he did with it in his head that his wife would be okay with his actions. This speaks to the wrong-footed philosophy of “sin now, repent later,” uttered by a priest in Kingdom of Heaven (of course). Instead, the time for upright behavior is always right now. Then again, with that attitude, I guess there would be no Ambulance.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, there are still pyrotechnics going off related to Ambulance. Thankfully, I am on the other side of the country. My apologies if I come off as too judge-y, but there is just not a ton of substance to this movie. I would say if such things do not matter to you, then go see it, but be aware that there is a lot of violence in it. The silliness of some of the, er, plot-points is bad enough, but then you add in the senseless destruction and it gets to be a little over-the-top. However, I guess that is Michael Bay for you.