Michael Bay Lets His ‘Ambulance’ Loose on an Unsuspecting Los Angeles

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Ambulance (CREDIT: Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, Jackson White, Olivia Stambouliah, Moses Ingram, Colin Woodell, Cedric Sanders, A Martinez, Wale Folarin, Jesse Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo

Director: Michael Bay

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: R for Explosions Coming Out of Guns and Mouths

Release Date: April 8, 2022 (Theaters)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of my instinctive reaction to Ambulance. In short, it distressed me. But I suspect that may have been intentional. Even if it was intentional, it may have gone a little overboard. That’s hardly surprising, as going overboard is Michael Bay’s whole m.o. So of course I knew what I was in for. It’s just a matter of discerning: did we find the sweet spot, or did we tip the scales? And my verdict is: Ambulance is way too much for this viewer to handle, but I appreciate the spectacle.

The premise is tailor-made for a lean, nasty thriller. Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a desperate man. Insurance won’t cover his wife’s surgery, so he turns to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal, matching Bay’s maximalism note for note), who’s about to pull off a massive bank heist. It’s supposed to be a simple in-and-out job, but a beat cop (Jackson White) just had to choose this day to ask out the bank teller he has a crush on. So Will and Danny are forced to take him hostage as they commandeer the ambulance of EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza González). If this had all been wrapped up in a cathartic hour and a half, I imagine I would have emerged from the theater reinvigorated and ready to crush everything on my bucket list. But instead, it’s a plodding 136 minutes that left me wondering if I would ever be able to feel like myself ever again.

The whole thing made me sick. Part of that has to do with the lengthy, surprisingly graphic abdominal surgery scene. Let’s just say my physiology is not optimally designed to handle the sight of that much blood. That could have been alleviated if this were a friendlier world, which it just isn’t. There are a few characters who are more or less pure, or at least gold-hearted despite their bad decisions. But every villain is surprisingly brutish, especially Danny, who’s one of the most frightening characters I’ve seen on screen in quite a while. He promises you loyalty and protection, but he’s really just an agent of chaos, much more violent and manipulative than you expect him to be.

But as distressed as I was, it’s hard to call Ambulance a failure. This is basically an extended metaphor for how L.A. traffic can turn your entire day into an Adventure Through Hell. And Bay’s clearly having himself a blast, what with the references to some of his earlier iconic films and the unbound use of drone cinematography. Oh, the drones! Have I mentioned the drones? If you need B-roll from every possible angle, there’s a new way to do it, and Ambulance works best as a how-to guide for pulling it off. Just order a drone, stick a camera on it, inject it with the mechanical equivalent of methamphetamine, and conquer the skies!

Ambulance is Recommended If You Like: Adults playing with their toys, New authority figures pulling up to take over the operation, The L.A. River

Grade: 3 out of 5 Drone Cameras

‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ Review: Shakespeare in the Dark

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The Tragedy of Macbeth (CREDIT: Alison Cohen Rosa/A24)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendon Gleeson, Harry Melling, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter, Moses Ingram, Ralph Ineson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Stephen Root, Brian Thompson, Richard Short

Director: Joel Coen

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Swordplay

Release Date: December 25, 2021 (Theaters)/January 14, 2022 (Apple TV+)

When reviewing a new Shakespeare adaptation, especially one of the Bard’s most popular productions, it makes sense to ask: what makes this version different? So as Joel Coen goes solo to take on The Scottish Play, what uniqueness has he brought to the table? Well, he did cast his wife Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, so that could potentially be some fertile ground for psychoanalysis. Or maybe not! She’s already been in plenty of his films, and I’m willing to guess that this isn’t the first time that a director’s wife has been cast in something Shakespearean. Denzel Washington certainly brings some more melanin than usual to the title role, but ultimately that’s neither here nor there. He’s Denzel Washington after all, so why not cast him in one of the most dramatically hefty parts in all of English-language drama?

Overall, one word comes to mind when trying to identify The Tragedy of Macbeth‘s uniqueness, and that word is: surreal. I don’t know if that’s what Coen was specifically aiming for, and I in fact wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a consideration at all. But no matter how it happened, it showed up. One huge reason for that is the dialogue itself; it’s strange to speak in iambic pentameter all the time, after all. On top of that, the geography within the castle walls never quite makes visual sense. Instead, it’s like a maze that the characters are perpetually stuck within. Combine that with Bruno Delbonnel’s stark black-and-white cinematography, and the whole film comes across as a dream that curdles into a nightmare. And as so often happens when I see a movie that lacks bright colors, I nodded off throughout, which only added to the sense that I slipped through some parallel dimension or underworld.

One more element that really stands out is Kathryn Hunter’s performance as the witchy weird sisters. She contorts herself into seemingly inhuman positions, which is a wise acting decision, considering that her characters are meant to be somewhere in between human and supernatural. I didn’t ask to see a huge disembodied toe stuck between someone else’s toes, but now I won’t be able to forget it. Nor will I be able to forget the shot of the one sister standing over a pool that reflects back the other two sisters. This is a striking Shakespearean adaptation, is what I’m saying.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is Recommended If You Like: Claustrophobia, Cruel fate, Maximum weirdness

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Usurpers