Far-fetched ‘Ambulance’ still a breakneck thriller



At one time in the past, Los Angeles had the dubious title of the bank robbery capital of the world.

One notorious theft came in the infamous North Hollywood bank heist where the LAPD found themselves seriously outgunned by the bad guys.

One would be tempted to think that director Michael Bay, known for special effects and huge budget action films, would be inspired by real-life events in the City of Angels for his heist thriller “Ambulance.”

Well, that would not be the case. Bay’s latest venture into thrills comes courtesy of screenwriter Chris Fedak being inspired by Danish thriller “Ambulancen,” a film that featured two bank robbers who hijack an ambulance with a heart attack patient on board.

The breakneck thriller that was envisioned by the creative team boils down to high-tension, character-driven crime drama that takes place over the course of one day across the streets, freeways and even the concrete bed of a usually dry Los Angeles River.

While assorted criminals and an army of police and FBI agents shooting it out raise the stakes, the focus of the story is on two men linked by brotherhood but widely divergent on principles who are involved in the biggest bank heist in Los Angeles history.

Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his adoptive brother Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) grew up together as family. Will, a decorated war veteran, is a devoted family man, while the charismatic yet insanely psychotic Danny is a career criminal wanted by the FBI.

Devoted to his wife who needs costly experimental surgery, Will is desperate for money to pay her medical bills not covered by insurance. Will wants a loan, but Danny offers a solution with an expected $32 million haul only if his sibling joins the robbery crew.

Erratic and delusional about his talent as a mastermind, Danny believes he has the perfect scheme. At first, everything is going according to plan until a lovestruck rookie cop shows up hoping to get the nerve to ask a pretty teller for a date.

Danny finesses the tense situation until the cop’s partner waiting outside realizes a robbery is in progress, and then all hell breaks loose. In the immediate getaway on foot through a labyrinth of underground areas, the cop is seriously wounded.

When the two brothers hijack an ambulance, they take paramedic Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez) and the rookie cop Zach Parker (Jackson White), barely clinging to life, as hostages, and hence begins a wild chase.

Assigned the unenviable task of coordinating the law enforcement operation, Captain Tyler Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) won’t hesitate to shoot to kill and is eager to avenge his injured officer.

Called to duty on his day off, Monroe arrives on the scene, wearing USC gear and camouflage pants, in a small Fiat with his insanely huge 200-pound mastiff in the passenger seat.

The LAPD captain’s old-school style clashes with the younger FBI Special Agent Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell), who by odd coincidence shares a complicated past with Danny Sharp, as both had studied criminology together at the University of Maryland.

While Captain Monroe and FBI agent Clark tussle over strategy and tactics, there is plenty of yelling and tension developing between the Sharp brothers, with Will being the empathetic character because his sibling is truly a dangerous and unhinged psychopath.

Logic is widely absent from “Ambulance.” There’s no point to giving much thought to how easily the two brothers evade the police in high-speed chases, especially when it appears that every cop and federal agent in the entire metropolis has been mobilized.

Even less believable is Cam, a medical school dropout due to drug abuse, being able by face timing two surgeons to handle a delicate surgical procedure while the ambulance is madly careening through the streets.

Fond of explosions and overwrought action, Michael Bay has little use for subtlety or refined sensibilities. If you come to “Ambulance” with the expectation of a plethora of violent thrills, disappointment will not cross your mind.

“Ambulance” is spirited, mindless entertainment. It is by turns silly and insipid or passionately calculating, the latter most evident when the paramedic attending to the wounded cop becomes emotionally connected.

Notably in the director’s dynamic style is the delivery of a rollercoaster ride that can almost make one dizzy from the scattershot blast of vehicle crashes and shootouts.

“Ambulance” could have benefited from tighter editing, seeing how a lot of the action is gratuitously repetitive. But the director is not known for restraint, and so over-the-top and virtually non-stop action is the order of the day.

Action junkies probably won’t be disheartened by the excesses of “Ambulance.” If you are in that group, strap in for a high-octane action journey that is far-fetched but still thrilling most of the time.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.