Jewish actor Gyllenhaal’s new movie is a non-stop, adrenaline ride!


Dan Buffa & Jordan Palmer

Jewish actor and producer Jake Gyllenhaal has what they call in Hollywood, range. We first got a glimpse of the rising star when he played Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers at age 11. Since then, Gyllenhaal has played a teenage rocket engineer in “October Sky,” a troubled teen in “Donnie Darko,” and of course his career-defining role in 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain.”

In more recent roles, he played the villain Mysterio in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” But his newest film, Michael Bay’s “Ambulance” may just show even more range from the 41-year-old Gyllenhaal.

“Ambulance”:  The set up

Michael Bay only knows how to make one kind of movie: an action movie, which is good because the world always needs a guilty pleasure escapist action thriller. The good thing about Bay’s latest, “Ambulance,” is that it has a pulse–a self-aware one.

This is an intense movie, and for 116 fast-moving minutes, the moviegoer will feel their adrenaline pumping. And, like all Bay movies, this one is loud. Sometimes, it’ll beat you over the head like his “Transformers: Age of Extinction” or 2016’s underrated John Krasinski war film “13 Hours.” The action resonates and connects rather easily with the drama.

“Ambulance” gets its hooks into you early on, showing two young boys growing up in one of Los Angeles’s unsavory neighborhoods. They are definitely brothers, even if their skin color differs like their conscience. Before a couple minutes pass, the audience is swept up into their current dilemmas. Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a good man who finds a way to tell two lies before breakfast but when he kisses his wife and young kid goodbye before going to a place he is telling them is “work,” you can tell something is eating away at him. That’s the high price for his wife’s surgery, which is critical.

So he turns to his adoptive brother Danny Strong (Gyllenhaal), who is about to get mixed up in some dangerous and highly illegal activity. In other words, he robs banks and offers to bring Will along for a cut. Cue the dominos falling and impending chaos that sometimes feels never-ending. That’s a Bay-styled cinematic environment. As Danny later insists to a Special Investigations Squad Captain (a very good Garret Dillahunt), “we don’t stop.” That’s the “Ambulance” that embraces the title; the vehicle that the brothers escape into with an EMT (show-stopper, Eiza Gonzalez) and police officer gunshot victim (Jackson White from HBO’s “Mrs. Fletcher”) in tow.

“Ambulance”:  Impressive camera work

What sets Bay’s latest film apart are two things: inventive camera work and well-timed self-awareness. Such as in the middle of the showdown between the bank robbers and cops, Dillahunt’s Captain must bring his huge (and sick) dog to the scene of the crime. This would bomb if the writing and acting wasn’t so sharp and funny. The hypertension in the film is cut by Danny and Will enjoying some pop music in the middle of their escape.

But the camera work is unreal. At first, it’s disorienting and dizzying–like a new concept hitting you square in the face. But as the film stretches into legs into its second act, the craft sharpens. The audience is watching a traditional bank robbery shootout with high-octane gunfire, but then the camera swoops down to the ground and through someone’s legs and then up overhead the shootout. Before long, you’re back in regular storytelling mode. I haven’t seen it done like this at such a consistent rate on this scale ever. Bay isn’t just his supreme comfort zone here; he’s armed with new toys.

A screenplay with enough poignancy in between ambulance chase scenes helps the cause here. Screenwriter Chris Fedak adapted the tale from a 2005 Denmark film, but he gives Bay’s lens a depth early on that pushes the film into very good movie territory, even during an overlong third act. The details of how things go bad in the robbery carry some unconventional twists, circumventing my expectations going in thinking this would be a standard drive through Bay. But it’s the commands of Dillahunt’s leader and his banter with Olivia Stambouliah’s tech expert or Danny whining about defibrillator stickers that tosses the film just the right amount of lightness to the increasingly dire situation.

“Ambulance”:  The cast

The cast helps the heartstring remain tugged and shoved. Danny and Will as inseparable ride or dies click instantly due to the skill of Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II. The latter impressed center stage in last year’s “Candyman” remake, convincing with his eyes and voice. Here, he’s a reluctant man of action sprung into a trap he can’t walk out of. And Abdul-Mateen II does a fine job of balancing his anger and love towards Danny. Played by Gyllenhaal as a man who never met relaxation, Strong is someone who keeps his deadly switch protected for the majority of this film. He’s a ticking time bomb and Gyllenhaal embraces his chaos, using that killer smile and charm for broken bad purposes. We can’t trust Danny’s next move, even if we also feel sorry for his plight after leaving the military.

But it’s Gonzalez who sneaks up and steals the film from her co-stars. We meet Cam Thompson very early on when she saves a little girl from a bad car wreck wound. Convincingly playing an EMT can be tricky in a fast-moving film, but she commands the screen right away and holds her own with the hard-charging gentlemen onboard the “Speed” like “Ambulance.” Also, kudos to Bay for giving the talented Dillahunt a bigger chunk of the pie than normal. He’s a hoot.

So is Bay’s film, which never lets up until the credits. It’s a pure adrenaline shot that engages and entertains, all the while winking ever-so-slowly that this is all supposed to be a fun ride.

Thankfully, “Ambulance” has a pulse.