Director Larry Cohen's The Ambulance is unapologetic, early '90s cheese about a Manhattan-based human trafficking ring. Starring a chattier-than-usual Eric Roberts, The Ambulance wastes no time pondering plausibility, but the film has a certain junk-movie charm. If nothing else, the scenes of an old school ambulance ransacking the city are good for a laugh.
Josh Baker (Roberts) meets a beautiful woman, Cheryl (Janine Turner), on the street one afternoon, only to see her faint and be carted off to the hospital in an ambulance. When Baker tries to find Cheryl at the hospital, he realizes she was never admitted. With the help of an unconvinced New York City police lieutenant (James Earl Jones), Baker attempts to expose trafficking conspiracy without implicating himself in Cheryl's disappearance.
The idea that the emergency service called upon to save your life could also take it is an interesting concept. In The Ambulance, the titular vehicle is staffed by generic thugs, and it makes its way around the city with ease. Baker catches on to the conspiracy quickly, which makes him a prime target for the meat wagon. Its goons beat up Baker and send him to the hospital. When they return to finish the job, Baker's elderly roommate saves his life by pulling the fire alarm.
The Ambulance has a sort of freewheeling, madcap vibe about it, and, despite some stretches of inactivity, the movie is funny and thrilling. The ambulance becomes quite the villain, smashing through walls, careening down narrow alleys and stalking Baker throughout Manhattan. I half expected it to turn up reflected in the bathroom mirror. Its ridiculous presence at nearly every turn is both hilarious and unnerving.
Roberts keeps the film afloat with a charm I never knew existed. Baker is self-depreciating and engaging, and Roberts clearly enjoys running with the material. The human trafficking conspiracy at the heart of The Ambulance is scary stuff. The movie is preposterous, but I cannot claim I wasn't entertained.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
The Ambulance is part of MGM's Limited Edition Collection, a movies-on-demand program for the studio's lesser-known titles. Each movie is presented on a DVD-R without extras. A message before the film indicates that the transfer comes from the best available source. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is actually pretty decent. The picture is clear, with strong colors and natural skin tones. Detail is generally solid and blacks are deep. I noticed no instances of digital manipulation. The Ambulance looks about as good as most mid-level '90s movies. The 2.0 stereo track is adequate. Dialogue is clear and distinct, and effects have some depth. A surround track would have been nice, but this stereo offering gets the job done.
Although it seems like the kind of movie the USA Network ran twice a week back in the '90s, The Ambulance is an enjoyable, paranoid thriller in which Eric Roberts must track down a rogue ambulance terrorizing New York City's streets and trafficking in humans. With some wild chase scenes and a few random shoot-outs, The Ambulance may be just enough entertainment for one evening. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.