Ambulance review: Michael Bay’s exhausting chase movie looks like it’s been edited mid-panic attack

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Dir: Michael Bay. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt. 15, 136 minutes.

While the UK clapped for its carers, America gave them Ambulance – a detonation of undiluted Michael Bay-ness that both elevates and reduces the role of ambulance worker to a symbol of pure, red-blooded patriotism. It’s as exhausting as it is exhilarating, in the way you both expect and desire from a Bay film. Will ambulance workers be touched by such a tribute? Perhaps, so far as you can feel honoured by a film designed to give people a taste of what it’s like to be on steroids.

Bay, at age 57, has hit the cruise control stage of his career. His style is now so defined, so inimitable, that there’s something almost casual about the bombast now. Ambulance seems to have been an easy case of Bay snapping up an obscure Danish action movie from 2005 – called Ambulancen – adapting it into English, and then cobbling together a 38-day shoot and a convoy of vehicles to flip. It’s impressive, but mostly for how much you know it will have inconvenienced the citizens of Los Angeles.

Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a hero, which Bay communicates to us within 30 seconds of meeting him by showing us a folded American flag in its display box, next to a book with the title “AFGHANISTAN” emblazoned on the spine. Do you think maybe this guy is a war veteran? Will’s wife Amy (Moses Ingram) needs vital surgery. So when his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) invites him on the heist to end all heists – a $32m bank job that outshines anything their criminal father ever did – he has a very hard time saying no. Cue a look of instant regret when Will and Danny find themselves in an abducted ambulance alongside medical worker Cam (Eiza González) and a bleeding-out cop, with half of the LAPD on their tails.

Abdul-Mateen and Gyllenhaal are compelling opposites. Abdul-Mateen – of Candyman and The Matrix Resurrections – has the fresh and eager charisma of a movie star on the rise. Gyllenhaal has the restless, twitchy quality of someone who feels like they’ve been a movie star for too long. He leans hard into the bug-eyed sociopathy of his post-Nightcrawler years, at one point screaming, with total commitment: “I wish I didn’t have herpes but we’ve all got to go with what we’ve got.”

Bay has always insisted that his films are apolitical and, with Ambulance, he’s largely right. It’s so myopic in its focus on the innate “goodness” of Will and Cam’s actions that there’s no real context to set any of that against. You’re not cheering for one side of the ambulance chase or another – you’re only here, inevitably, for the chaos. And, in true Bay form, it’s important only that his main characters stay alive. The mass killings of pedestrians are off-screen concerns, as cars careen into LA’s seemingly endless supply of roadside stalls.

Ambulance is a purely aesthetic beast, made for those who like their films to look like they’ve been edited by someone in the middle of a panic attack – for some reason, there are about 300 cuts in a scene that consists of nothing more than Danny telling someone he looks like Mel Gibson. Lorne Balfe’s aggressively sombre score is paired with a steady stream of drone shots that swoop down buildings, zip along highways and lurch around with inhuman gracelessness. It feels like you’re watching through the eyes of a monster that’s just crawled out the La Brea tar pits. Bay long ago lapsed into self-parody. Then again, that’s half the appeal of these movies.