A few decades back, an older, wiser critic said — we’re paraphrasing slightly here — that the problem wasn’t that we’re plagued by bad movies, but that we are now plagued by the same bad movie over and over again. This goes double for the works of director Michael Bay, whose work can be divided into two basic categories: Blockbusters in which giant robots blow shit up, and blockbusters in which regular human beings blow shit up. They are, however, more or less the same movie, regardless of whether they take place in deep space, old prisons-turned tourist traps, clone islands, or Miami. The storytelling tends to be less sophisticated than cave paintings, the volume goes to 111, the emphasis is on sound and fury signifying nothing, and the overall effect is designed to leave viewers dazed and confused, not necessarily in that order. Scream “vulgar auteurism” all you want — Bay specializes in making brash, cacophonous, high-calorie, low-nutrition fast-food cinema. You either consider this a perk or a precursor to the apocalypse.
Consequently, the people who are lucky enough to see the moving pictures and then write about them professionally tend to find themselves writing not just reviews of bad movies, but the same review of a bad movie over and again. These films are lowest-common-denominator trash, just because you can stage gajillions of explosions and endlessly wreck sports cars doesn’t mean you should, all this endless Bayhem is too poorly staged to be exhilarating or even a guilty pleasure, yadda yadda yadda. It is, frankly, tiring for us and for you. Rather than just reiterate the same old arguments and adjectives for Bay’s latest collection of booms, crashes, pows, squeals and kablams, we’re going to try something a little different.
Ambulance centers around two brothers, Will (Watchmen‘s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who find themselves in the middle of a bank robbery gone very. very wrong. (Wait, they’re brothers, you ask? Yes, Danny’s dad took Will in as a kid. Several people also express bewilderment at this fact during the movie. They are quickly greeted by eyerolls.) They end up commandeering an ambulance — see title — as an emergency getaway car. An EMT (Eiza González) and a severely wounded cop (Jackson White) are along for the ride. A special-ops unit of the LAPD, an FBI agent, a host of helicopters and roughly 72,000 black-and-white police cruisers chase the crooks and their hostages all around Los Angeles. Is this all merely an excuse to show off firepower and fireballs, albeit at less of the usual budget (a mere $40 million, which is roughly the cost of a single Transformer’s tune-up)? Yes. Yes, it is.
So, as a public service to our readers — because we like you, we really, really like you! — we’ve devised a drinking game to be played while watching this magnum opus. While we do not condone the excessive consumption of alcohol, or sneaking spirits and other such beverages into a theater, or any display of public intoxication, we also do not think you should endure Ambulance while being sober. If you are in recovery, by the way, we offer you a sincere congratulations. We also recommend you go see Sonic the Hedgehog 2 instead.
Take a sip of your favorite stout or IPA:
~There’s a shot of something — a hand, a head, a building, a gun and/or guns — filmed with the sun behind it, thus backlighting the object in question with more wattage than necessary. Take two sips if the item is an American flag, majestically blowing in the breeze.
~Someone mentions Will’s military service. A former Marine who did a tour in Afghanistan (thank you for your service, sir), we meet him when he’s on the phone with a veteran’s center, trying to get some info regarding payments for his wife’s cancer treatments. He quickly finds himself getting the high hat and a lot of bureaucratic red-tape mumbo-jumbo. It’s this tough spot, in fact, that forces Will to to visit his ne’er-do-well brother and ask for a loan. Take two sips if you agree that the way that the government treats its veterans is beyond shoddy, shameful and rage-inducing. Take three sips if you feel that a movie exploiting this notion so it can crash cars on the 405 is not so great, either.
~If you’re convinced that Danny’s crew of criminal cohorts came from Central Casting. (Wanted: Burly, bearded men who resemble ex-Navy SEALs. Must inspire random mentions of Braveheart.) Ditto the elite Los Angeles law-enforcement squad that is staking out the bank they’re about to rob, as they’ve been trailing Danny for a while and feel that this time, they’ve finally got him right where they want him!
~At the idea that a perfectly planned heist can be undone by a single socially awkward police officer who’s super-horny for a bank teller. Actually, this is our favorite plot point in the entire movie. Cheers to you, Ambulance.
~Whenever the big shoot-out that happens between cops and crooks on the streets of L.A. reminds you of the big set piece in Heat. Take two sips for every shot that makes you realize that you could be watching Heat at home right now, doing this exact same sequence only a whole helluva lot better and with more A-to-B coherence. Take three steps if you’d simply settle for watching Den of Thieves instead at this point.
~When you know — you just know — that González’s EMT will be described as “the best paramedic in the business,” but no one wants to be her partner with her because she is a loose cannon. (Spoiler: She is the best paramedic in the business, but no one wants to be her partner because she is a loose cannon.)
~If the presence of a large dog belonging to the commander of that special-ops unit somehow factors into the narrative. Two sips for every reaction shot involving the dog looking humorously puzzled by something.
~Every time a drone shot occurs. Oh my god, there are so many drone shots in this film — zipping down the sides of buildings, whizzing over the heads of actors, flying headfirst into oncoming traffic or as a group of people are running toward the camera. Did Michael Bay get a drone for Christmas? It feels like every other action sequence, and a good number of inaction sequences, cut to an angle filmed from a speeding drone-mounted camera. And while we understand that when you’re only working with $40 million you’ve got to operate in different, more imaginative ways, the barrage of dipping and diving shots here is less likely to thrill you and more likely to cause mass vomiting. (Rolling Stone can not be held liable for any damages incurred while adhering to the rule.)
Down a shot of bourbon:
~Whenever someone in Ambulance references other Michael Bay movies. At one point, someone quotes a line from The Rock and then, should you not recognize where it comes from, yells, “The Rock!” When two cops exit a squad car, someone makes a Bad Boys crack. There may be others we missed. The ego has landed.
~When you think to yourself, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is one of the most compelling actors working today, and that you hope he emerges from this disaster unscathed. Take two shots every time you see hints of “Crazy Jake” start to bleed into Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. You know Crazy Jake, right? That’s the star’s unpredictable, unhinged, bug-eyed alter ego that shows up in movies like Okja, Velvet Buzzsaw, some bits of Spider-Man: Far From Home and every second of the classic “Mr. Music” sketch. Take three shots if you wish he simply turned his sociopathic half of this strained Cain-and-Able parable into a full Crazy Jake marathon.
~Every time you realize that Garret Dillahunt is a freaking national treasure, and that every movie that requires a slightly jaded, mostly hardass, overly confident and very snarky captain of a commando anti-robbery unit should cast him in that role, full stop. Two shots for when he makes a Doogie Howser joke and someone says, “Ok, Boomer” to him. Three shots for the way he calls somebody a “Silverlake liberal.”
~Whenever Bay and his cinematographer Roberto De Angelis move their camera in and out of a bullet hole in the ambulance’s back window. Be very careful with this one.
~If a car chase involving someone driving the wrong way down the Los Angeles freeway reminds you of the big set piece in To Live and Die in L.A. Take two shots for every moment that you realize that you could be watching To Live and Die in L.A. at home right now instead.
~Whenever Will has a teary, very sentimental moment involving his family — especially his infant son, nicknamed “Big Man Tate.” Take two shots if you mistakenly believe that Big Man Tate is the name of a Jodie Foster movie.
Slug a mouthful of that sweet, sweet Everclear:
~If you think that the Los Angeles river would not somehow play a key part in this film at some point. (Spoiler: It does.)
~When a vintage R&B, soul or Top 40 song comes on the soundtrack. Two shots if one of those songs inspires an unexpected — and inexplicable — sing-along. Three shots if it is Christopher Cross’s “Sailing.”
~If you did not know this movie is a remake of a 2005 Danish movie. (We’re drinking, as we did not know, either.) Two shots if you realize that after a little digging online, you could be at home watching the original at home right now.
~If you somehow think that a muscle car with a mannequin and a Gatling gun inside of it will not come into play at some point. (Spoiler: It will)
~Once you realize that this movie is 136 minutes long.
~When you begin to question the life choices that you have made and thus led you to where you are sitting at this very moment.
~If you would literally kill to see a giant robot show up and turn into a bulldozer or a plane of something, then just crush 90-percnt of the people responsible for this brouhaha.