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Characters (and, yes, explosions) are what make 'Ambulance' a Michael Bay movie, producer says
Ambulance producer Brad Fischer says the true strength of the movie comes from a sometimes overlooked hallmark of Bay's.
Ambulance, the new movie about a bank heist-turned-high speed chase in a stolen EMS vehicle, is a Michael Bay movie. Given that premise, and the fact that it’s directed by the same man who made films like Armageddon, The Rock, and Transformers, you can probably assume that there will be wild, borderline-absurd action and huge, dynamic explosions.
And there are, of course. But Ambulance producer Brad Fischer says the true strength of the movie comes from another, sometimes overlooked hallmark of Bay’s.
“Ambulance has as much of the spectacle and explosions and the car chases and all the trappings of what we’ve kind of come to expect from a Michael Bay movie,” Fischer tells SYFY WIRE, explaining that the movie is a throwback to an older era of action flicks. “I thought about Bad Boys and The Rock, these films that he did in the ‘90s that really redefined the blockbuster, that had spectacle, but also had these characters that were larger than life and had this banter and humor.”
The movie stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Will Sharp, a veteran who needs $231,000 to pay for his wife’s surgery. When insurance doesn’t come through, he reluctantly turns to his adoptive brother Danny, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Danny’s a career criminal, and he ropes his brother into a bank heist that goes horribly, violently, and terribly wrong — almost comically so. To escape, the brothers hijack an ambulance with a shot cop and an EMT named Cam Thompson (Eiza González) inside. The rest of the movie is essentially a thrilling chase all across Los Angeles, as the various, fairly militarized police units responding to the crisis try (and largely fail in spectacular fashion) to apprehend the titular ambulance.
The car chase and various shootouts are plentiful and exciting, but there’s still a lot of movie that takes place inside the ambulance, as the three characters (and the cop in critical condition) argue, fight, work together, and do surgery that makes a spleen explode inside the cramped confines of their getaway vehicle.
“If the relationship between those three and what starts to unfold between all of them doesn’t work, there’s no movie,” Fischer says. “You’re in the back with them without very much space to blow things up. I mean, we cut to the outside plenty of times for that, but the whole body of the movie relies on that muscle that Bay has and has exercises really really well.”
Will and Danny’s relationship might not literally be as explosive as the action outside of the ambulance, but it is a thrilling ride of its own. Gyllenhaal is playing a new flavor of unhinged that’s really an unsettling delight to see, and he and Abdul-Mateen wrestle with their character’s shared past and brotherly love and the current, manipulative and abusive dynamics that got them into this mess.
“There’s this connection there that I think also is a source of tension throughout the movie,” Fischer says. “One of the references we had talked about was Training Day, and the relationship between Ethan Hawke and Denzel [Washington]. It’s very Machiavellian. There are similar kinds of manipulation that are happening here between Danny’s character and how he’s using his brother.”
And, although it’s a bit of a cliche, the city of Los Angeles is itself a character in Ambulance.
“There’s a great tradition of crime films that are set in cities where the cities themselves become part of the fabric of the story and stand in as a character as well,” Fischer says. “As a producer, I’m trying to figure out how to put as much money on the screen and how to get the movie made, and it was definitely not the cheapest place to shoot. But, creatively, it was always the first choice.”
Bay, who was born in the City of Angels, shoots Los Angeles vividly and with clear admiration as the ambulance speeds across its many highways and down the L.A. River.
“You see it in those shots, those wide shots of the city that bookend the film,” Fischer says. “It’s a story of one day in L.A. and how the lives of these people are changed forever as a result. One day in the life of a paramedic.”
Of course, Ambulance is not the first movie about a government-owned vehicle speeding through the streets of Los Angeles. Speed did it first, though Fischer says he thinks his movie’s ambulance would be the better vehicle in a chase.
“Look, you’ve obviously got more room in the bus, right? Not that there’s going to be that many opportunities to relax during a high-speed chase…” he muses. “But, I do lean towards the ambulance for obvious reasons. You’ve got more resources in there. If things go wrong you’ve got the paddles. I think there’s room if you can squeeze in with Jake, Yaha, and Eiza… As much as I love Keanu and Sandra Bullock, I’ve got to choose the home team.”
Ambulance is now in theaters.