Movie Review: Ambulance

I’ve been reviewing movies for over 25 years, and there’s one expression I’ve always hated. It’s when I get into a discussion with people at a party about films, and they’ll mention some idiotic movie they liked, like Fast and the Furious 5. I try my best to be nice as I explain why I didn’t like it and they say, “I just want to go to movies to turn off my brain for a few hours, so I don’t care if it’s stupid. I don’t want to have to sit in a movie and think but just escape.”

The “turning off the brain” for a mindless movie just doesn’t make sense to me. For example, when I go to a dinner party, I don’t want to sit around the table with a bunch of dumb people having idiotic conversations and just “turn off my brain” and merely enjoy the wine and cheese on the table. I want engaging, intelligent conversations. That doesn’t mean they can’t be about silly things, or we can’t act goofy, or whatever; but it’s much more enjoyable having dinner with smart people. And I feel the same way with a movie. So if the screen is filled with things exploding, car chases, or buses that can’t go under 60 mph and fly from one bridge to another on a freeway overpass, just don’t make them completely idiotic.

Now all that being said, this is the closest a movie like that has come to working for me. Most of the time watching it, I was having fun with the explosions, the incredible car chases, and stunts. At one point, I said to the friend I brought with me (who loved it), “How in the world did they even film some of those shots, where the camera goes under the bridge, and swoops around to go right underneath the ambulance?”

He explained how drones are used to film things like that, and I felt silly for not realizing that.

Sometimes these shots involved us seeing the top of the bank, and the camera zooming straight down to show us one of the robbers standing by a doorway with a gun. It was a blast (no pun intended).

Since this is a Michael Bay movie, I think most people going in also don’t care about any plot holes or silly bits of dialogue you’re going to get. I’ve long had a problem with talk in films like “I’ll have your badge if you screw up one more time, Donovan!” or “We’re the FBI. You don’t have jurisdiction here, you flat foot (okay, maybe that’s bad dialogue from a ‘50s cop film, but you get the point).

There were enough humorous moments in the dialogue that it never really bothered me too much.

Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen) is an Afghanistan vet who has a baby, and a wife with a medical condition that the hospital isn’t paying for. I know, I know. We’ve all seen those movies where the guy takes over a hospital because of that. Denzel Washington did one 20 years ago, if memory serves.

Will shows up to ask his brother for money, or a job. His brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) had a father who was a notorious bank robber who killed many. He also adopted Will. It just so happens that Will showed up an hour before they’re going to do the biggest bank robbery in L.A. history – it will net them $32 million. 

I loved that Danny also has some job doing security for a rich guy who has a warehouse full of classic Corvettes, and he uses some of those vehicles, and his connections, to commit crimes. I also liked that he called one of the thugs “Mel Gibson” because his face reminds him of the character in Braveheart (and really, this is the only way we should be hearing the name Mel Gibson on screen – being made fun of; but I digress).

As the uptempo music shows the guys rolling up on the bank, it’s all doing its job. And just as things get ready to roll – there’s a hilarious scene involving a customer in the elevator that might just ruin everything. There’s also a cute moment where a shy, rookie cop named Zach (Jackson White) goes into the bank to ask out a teller working there. Of course, she’s in the middle of being robbed, and Danny is pretending to be the bank manager. Everything ends up going wrong, and Danny and Will end up hijacking an ambulance that already has a cop in it who's been shot. We met EMT Cam (Eiza Gonzalez) in an opening scene saving a little girl in a car accident. 

We get a Lorne Balfe score that booms, along with the explosions, that you can sometimes feel in the pit of your stomach. And it actually adds to the spectacle of it all. 

While I can let a lot of the dumb stuff pass in the first half – there came a point midway through that I started to check out. It started with something going on with the patient in the ambulance (who is a cop), and got worse when a Mexican drug cartel that Danny calls in a favor from – was just so over the top ridiculous. They built lowriders with automatic machine gun firing weapons that looked like something you would have seen in a Mad Max movie. And there’s something so annoying about the cliche drug kingpin who watches everything going wrong, but lights up a cigar and calmly spouts out some goofy dialogue. 

That being said, I was still enjoying elements of the picture. Listening to Danny call one of his employees, asking him to bring paint so they can camouflage the ambulance – was hysterical. Especially since the guy keeps bringing up flamingoes. And it was the best quick paint job of a vehicle since Alan Arkin had his BMW painted in The In-Laws.

Needle-drops have been a pet peeve of mine the last few years. In this, we get Bobby Womack’s great cover of “California Dreamin’ ” and that cliche scene that so many movies have done – with crazy explosions going on all around, playing a really mellow song the bad guy wants to jam to. This time it’s Christopher Cross’ “Sailing.” [the best use of mellow music during a robbery is Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, when a character makes Ethan Hawke turn off the mellow music so he can blast heavy metal before the big score; but it’s kind of ridiculous for me to compare a Sidney Lumet movie to a Michael Bay flick].

Actor Garret Dillahunt shows up, and he would be a welcome surprise. But the humor with his big dog crapping everywhere and he becomes part of the car chase, and his barking orders (pun intended) got old really quick. Although once a mobile assault vehicle arrives and he riffs with the woman (Olivia Stambouliah) driving it, those elements were fun. She was my favorite character in the movie, and I could watch a whole film with her as the main character (and this is the Australian actress’s breakout film in America). Listening to those two spar in a few scenes was very well done. Listening to him mouth off to another FBI agent – not so much. 

A few different times, fruit stands were run into during car chases. I thought about the Roger Ebert book I read where he wrote about all the movie cliches. One of them was that if there’s a fruit stand on the side of the road in a movie, at some point a car will go through it (also done in The In-Laws).

I also thought of something else. A few times the ambulance would screech by with the lights and sirens, I thought about how Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLouise used an ambulance for a car race in Cannonball Run. Damn, I’ve been watching crappy movies for a long time. But just as Cannonball Run was goofy fun, so was this.

2 stars out of 5.

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