I am not a Michael Bay hater, there are plenty out there who can take up that mantle, but I understand why some people find his style intolerable, it’s because of movies like this. “Ambulance” is an action chase film, that takes every camera trick you can imagine and inserts it into every scene in the movie, for no reason other than to try to convince you that you are watching something exciting. Sometimes it works, when we can see all the cars in a chase at once, or when we switch to an aerial view occasionally, but often it is simply distracting and annoying. Every sequence set inside the ambulance does not really need to be highlighted with ten different camera angles and constant shaky cam photography. One in a while, a static shot of the details would make us focus on the event, rather than how it is being shot.

At times Bay appears to be parodying himself. The characters actually reference “The Rock” and “Bad Boys” so the film is self aware that it is just an action piece of entertainment, not to be taken too seriously. I would be ok with that if the plot made a little more sense.  This is a movie based on a Danish film that was only 80 minutes long, somehow they manage to add an extra hour to that, and I suspect you can pick out a series of plot complications that make up that extra time. The paramedic performing surgery directed by two doctors on the golf course using Face Time, would be one of those additions. The gang cartel connection would be another. This film finds several ridiculous concepts and strings them together to fill in story. 

“Ambulance” looks like it is going to start as a heist film, but we mostly see the after effects of an escape and  that is probably a good thing. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Danny, is supposed to be a world class bank robber but he has hired the biggest bunch of goons to help him carry off the film, you wonder who he used in all the other crimes he is supposed to have committed, where are they? Some of the guys look like standard Black Ops Mercenaries, and some look like hippie recruited off the street. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays his adopted brother Will and he is supposedly not a criminal but a war hero. As a driver he is dragooned to replace some other clown at the last minute and you can see that this is just a justification to get a “good” brother “bad” brother story which does not feel at all organic.L

In the poster title of the film, they draw attention to the location of the movie by highlighting two letters in the title

“AMBULANCE”, so if you like movies set in L.A., you should like this right? Well, as a sixty year former resident of the city, this movie continues to make the same mistakes a hundred other films have made. Twenty minutes of driving at high speeds in downtown, leaving destruction in your wake, will not result in your finding clear roads in the same area you drive to five minutes later. Tourists will be disappointed to learn that the airport is not ten minutes from the civic center. Oh, and the biggest laugh of the film is the reference the lead S.I.S. captain makes to “rush hour starting in 45 minutes”. In Southern California, there has not been a distinct rush hour for three decades, it is pretty much 24/7 bumper to bumper on all the roads that get referred to in the film. If you want the film to be about a car chase in L.A., you factor that in, there are car chases on the local news there once a week and they are more compelling than the stuff that happens here. 

The best parts of the film are the credits, which only last a couple of minutes. If only Hollywood would steal that concept and leave the visual mayhem to Bay for the movies he makes. Eiza González as the EMT that gets caught up in the story is fine, but she is asked to do the impossible, play a rational character in an irrational scenario. 

Bad Boys for Life

Not that anyone ever took these films seriously, but after “Hot Fuzz” and “Team America”, it seemed to me that the secret was out that these movies are sort of a parody of real cop movies. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider did long surveillance in seedy conditions, ate and drank crappy food in cramped cars and mostly the car chases were collision courses in old cars. Cops drew their guns but were careful about firing, and if they weren’t the ending was downbeat rather than celebratory. The early Michael Bay films took action to extremes, mixed the improbable with some humor and amped up the violence. It was a formula for success twenty years ago. Apparently, it still works in spite of the passage of time and the mocking of tropes that has gone on since the last time Will Smith and Martin Lawrence saddled up to sing and shoot.

I saw both of the previous films once each. I enjoyed them at the time but I have almost no recall of plot or other characters. The movies are strictly disposable entertainment. Nothing wrong  with that, but if I’m going to put a Michael Bay film on repeatedly, it’s going to be “The Rock”. I did not have high expectations for the film but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it while I was in the theater. Bay does not direct [Although he does make an appearance], the directing team of Bilal Fallah and Adil El Arbi have the reins and they ride this pony for all it’s worth. It does not have the pacing of a Bay film, but everything else is there, glamour, explosions, over the top violence and shiny images and people. It’s like the 80s never died and “Miami Vice” became the biggest influence on movie making since “Jaws”.

Before he put on the fat suit and dressed as a transvestite, Martin Lawrence was a pretty reliable comic actor in action films and urban based comedies. This movie reminds us of why he was a star for most of the 90s. Maybe he has worked more sparingly in the last few years because the material did not fit him, but for this film it does. Will Smith is still the first name above the title but Lawrence is the acting hero in this movie. The comedy is not slapstick but based on a couple of premises. The usual trope of retirement is used to gain some sympathy. His character is also a new Grandpa.  It is the second premise that I appreciated more though. His character Marcus has emotional regrets about the violence he has inflicted on the world and he is trying to make good on a deal with God to be a better man. Of course by the end that will fly out the window, but until it does it gives Lawrence plenty of opportunities to riff on his characters self doubts and the more conservative person he has become as a father/grandfather figure.

Will Smith plays Will Smith. He is still cock of the walk confident and handsome. Yet he is also getting older and some acknowledgement of that was called for. The turn in the third act seems a little close to his film from last year but I won’t say too much. The plot does try to introduce new blood into the storyline and you can see the blueprint being laid down for future episodes of the series. It’s probably a good idea that he follows the lead of Tom Cruise, make a franchise film in your comfort zone every couple of years, and people will not notice when the mediocre films flop as much.

The action is insane at times, including a climax in a burning hotel that features a helicopter explosion inside of an abandoned building. The motorcycle chase can’t stand up to the Mission Impossible standards that have set the bar recently, but there are some good moments and a lot of gunplay to go with it. I don’t think this edition of the buddy cop franchise is necessarily better than the previous two, but since it is recent, I can remember a bit more of what happened. Give me a couple of years and it will fade too. Then maybe I can watch all of them again before the inevitable “Bad Boys 4” gets unleashed.