Michael Bay, the hyperactive thyroid of action cinema, has taken a scrawny little low-budget Danish film called Ambulancen from 2005, about two criminal brothers who hijack an ambulance, put an IV in its tiny arm and pumped it full of radioactive steroids.
The result is a supersized remake which runs one hour longer than the original: an LA action movie with explosions, black-and-white cop cars twirling through the air, muscly guys with big beards and big guns (but no hair) growling menacingly, senior police officers with mirror shades staring grimly off in repose at the skyline, gutsy paramedics – and an adorable big dog which one officer sentimentally takes to work with him in the car. Hysterically kinetic cinematography means that no one can run in one direction without the camera swooping in the opposite direction overhead.
Ambulance has everything… except actors giving a decent performance as believable characters in a workable script. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Will Sharp, a decorated military veteran who badly needs money for his ailing wife’s operation. In desperation, he turns to his dodgy adoptive brother, smoothie career criminal Danny Sharp, played by Jake Gyllenhaal with a twitchy array of supposedly smartass wisecracks and who perhaps has been encouraged by the director to display a worryingly uncharismatic kind of “charisma”, running counter to Gyllenhaal’s talent for deliberative coolness.
Danny instantly and implausibly recruits Will as a driver for the bank heist he is going to pull off in half an hour. Erm, is that a good idea given that Will has no training or aptitude for the job? Don’t ask. Anyway, the robbery goes mightily sideways; the boys wind up shooting a cop and shoving him into the ambulance they’ve commandeered at gunpoint, in the back of which paramedic Cam Thompson (Eiza González) has no choice but to keep the cop alive as they zoom through the streets with the police in fierce pursuit – often smashing through sidewalk fruit stalls in the time-honored manner. There’s even a traditional scene driving down the LA River.
If only Bay had used the natural style and humor of Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen. Instead, they look like people who have never met before stepping out of their luxury trailers. In dialogue scenes, each man looks as if he is looking at a green screen, and González has nothing to work with. For all the spectacular action set-pieces, there’s something silly and tedious that sets in well before the two-hour mark. It flatlines.