One does not hire Michael Bay for subtle adult drama. The blockbuster producer/director of the “Transformers” and “Bad Boys” franchises does have a distinctive style—it’s just that all of his authorial signatures involve massive explosions and dizzying drone shots. And Bay’s latest, “Ambulance,” is a thick, juicy, hilariously overwrought, gloriously stupid steak upon which the vulgar auteurists of the world can feast.
“Ambulance” is a remake of the 2005 Danish film “Ambulancen,” with a few key differences. Both are about brothers who turn to bank robbery to pay for a relative’s medical bills. But here, the recipient is changed from a dying mother to a sick wife, juicing the conflict between career criminal Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his adopted sibling, struggling veteran Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Bay’s world is one of good guys with principles and bad guys without, even when those principles cease to make any logical sense. But it’s not about making sense. It’s about big, thunderous emotions.
In both films, the ensuing heist goes horribly wrong, forcing the duo to hijack an ambulance as a combination getaway vehicle/camouflage so they can escape the police cruisers and SWAT vehicles and surveillance trucks surrounding the bank. But in Bay’s version, the poor sap dying in the back of the stolen ambulance isn’t an everyday heart patient, but a wounded cop. (What, you didn’t think badge worship would factor into this story?) And while “Ambulancen” runs a tight 80 minutes, “Ambulance” stretches its legs at a leisurely 136.
That’s not to imply that there’s anything relaxing about watching “Ambulance.” The film opens on an emotionally manipulative register, panning over medical bills and pill bottles bathed in the same golden light that surrounds Will’s saintly wife Amy (Moses Ingram) as she cradles their newborn child. Amy’s cancer diagnosis has pushed the couple’s finances to their limit. And so Will reluctantly reconnects with his flashy, glib brother, with the intent of borrowing money to pay for Amy’s upcoming surgery. But Danny—who Gyllenhaal plays like the character has Red Bull and cocaine for breakfast every morning—offers him one better: Rather than a few hundred thousand dollars to appease the insurance companies, how about a payday of $8 million?