Review – It’s Bay All The Way! (“Ambulance”)

Based on the 2005 Danish film (Ambulancen), this jam-packed actioner is by Michael Bay and that can only mean one thing: explosions, sweeping camera movements, the American flag, insane car chases, 360-degree spins, and close-ups! Buckle up, boys & girls!

In a recycled plot that you’ve seen a dozen times before (an honest, but desperate guy needs $$$, so he does something radical, dangerous, and illegal), we have war veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mahteen II), who really needs $231K for his wife Amy’s (Moses Ingram) surgery. He reaches out to Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), his adoptive brother and a life-long criminal, who talks him into taking part in a $32 million bank heist, like right now! In a movie that should be called, Well, That Escalated Quickly, everything that can go wrong, does, and with unbelievable stakes being raised every few minutes. As the Sharp Bros. and their less-than-savory crew of baddies prepare for the heist, we get the quick story of heroic, but detached ambulance EMT, Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez), and her driver, Scott (Colin Woodell).   

As the heist goes down and spectacularly fails, Officer Zach (Jackson White) is accidentally shot by Will during their escape. Carjacking the ambulance, Will and Danny take the dying officer with them, along with Cam, thus starting the next two-hour car chase in and around L.A. with the L.A.P. D. Swat Team, lead by grizzled Capt. Moore (Garret Dillahunt), and later getting an assist by FBI Special Agent Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell), who used to be buddies with Danny. The ambulance, driven by Will (which apparently never runs out of fuel) is constantly chased and harassed by the cops as they want to stop them, but not hurt their fellow officer inside. And that comes in handy, especially during the stomach-churning, nail-biting surgery scene inside the moving ambulance! Oy!

Luckily, Danny has an ace up his sleeve, and that’s his old crime lord father-figure, Papi (A. Martinez), who agrees to help get Danny out of his predicament. . . for a price. This is Chris Fedak’s first movie screenplay, but you needn’t worry, he’s written for many terrific shows like Prodigal Son, Legends of Tomorrow, and Forever. Yes, it’s basically just a car chase movie with numerous car crashes, stunts galore, and high stakes like The Blues Brothers or Crank, but add to this the outrageous kid-in-a-candy-store antics of director Michael Bay. He’s upped his own ante by adding drone cameras this time and boy! It’s awesome!! They zip, weave, dive, spin, and fly all over the place to give you a POV view of a kamikaze pigeon!

This is the fun old-school Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon Michael Bay. He has taken Fedak’s script and elevated it to a slam-bang, adrenaline-fueled, non-stop action car chase with insane crashes, lively-goofy dialogue, jaw-dropping stunt work, and some wildly imaginative fast-paced camerawork that’ll leave you reaching for the Dramamine. And let’s talk about the acting, which only adds to the mayhem. Gyllenhall is at his best as the bi-polar and psychotic Danny, who is clever & witty one moment, then all screaming & guns a’blazing the next. Abdul-Mahteen II matches Gyllenhall’s madness with his own stoic coolness and believability, while Gonzalez is impressive as the gorgeous no-nonsense EMT who tries not to care for her patients.

**Now showing only in theaters                     

Empire State (2013)

Flying under the box office radar back in 2013, this sneaky little heist movie was based on the actual 1982 NYC theft of over $11 million by some amateurs. It even starred Liam Hemsworth (Thor’s brother) and the Rock, Dwyane Johnson, in a small supporting role.

It’s damn hot in the Bronx, NY, sometime in the early 80’s and easy-going Chris Potamitis (Hemsworth) is having a bad day. His application for being an NYPD cop has been denied and his immigrant dad has been fired from his job after 10 years. He gets a low-paying job as a security guard with the Empire Armored Car Company, where security there is a joke and the money is stored in a super-easy accessible vault. After his partner is killed during a robbery, Chris is demoted to night watchman where he steals a money bag containing $25K. Easy pickin’s, huh? Well, not really. Y’see, Chris has a loud-mouthed, obnoxious, loose cannon of a friend named Eddie (Michael Angarano) who wants to steal all the money at Chris’ job! Worse yet, Eddie has recruited dangerous gangster Mike Dimitriu (Greg Vrotsos), who’s in league with the local mob boss, Spiro Stavrakis (Chris Diamantopoloulos).

Not quite sure if this is a good idea or not, Chris goes ahead with the plan of robbing his work, but there’s major snafu the night of the robbery as the cops are tipped off and two other guys are killed trying to rob his work! Led by the brave Detective James Ransome (Johnson), Chris is saved for the moment. . . that is, until unhinged Eddie decides to go against the plan and just rob the place himself! He steals about $11 million, knocks Chris out, and hooks up with Mike to buy millions in cocaine from a rival drug dealer. Oooh! A really bad idea! Not only does that deal go south, but Detective Ransome suspects Chris of masterminding the whole operation.

People are betrayed, actions have terrible consequences that lead to deaths, and in the end, Eddie and Chris are sent to prison. However, in a humorous side-note that is depicted during the end credits, not all of the stolen money was ever recovered, to which the real Chris laughs, “Hey, it’s a mystery!” (wink wink). This is just Adam Mazer’s second screenplay, as he’s barely a producer/writer, only having done a handful of TV specials. Even with that, this script isn’t too bad, but it hardly reached the ‘wow’ factor that was needed to pull in audiences at the box office, even with Johnson in it. The dialogue is standard and full of TV jargon, but laced with F-bombs galore.

Liam hasn’t quite reached the superstardom of his brother, Chris, but he manages to give a great performance here as the put-upon under-achiever that only wants to do good, but is hampered by the horrible company he keeps. A real gem in this 90-minute fare is Angarano as the thoroughly despicable Eddie. Angarano plays him so well and with such utter depravity that you hate him more and more as the movie progresses. That’s good acting! Johnson, for the little amount he’s on-screen, amounts to a glorified cameo. 

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