The Ambulance (1990)

At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, watching “The Ambulance” made me think ‘they just don’t make ’em like they used to’ a few times. Along with many of director Larry Cohen’s other efforts (like “Q” and “The Stuff”), “The Ambulance” has a compelling, poignant “do it yourself” aesthetic that makes even mundane scenes more loaded than what’s actually happening. It gives the movie a thrilling “anything can happen” vibe that survives throughout, and it’s only in retrospect that you realize that the narrative is actually fairly straightforward and conventional. But it doesn’t matter because this is pure Cohen-esque cinema at its best: It’s like an extended episode of a police procedural that happens to have the always-arresting Eric Roberts in the lead, which gives even our main protagonist a bit of a sleazy, untrustworthy edge that speaks more to the performer’s own charismatic-but-jerkish appeal. There’s also a series of arresting supporting performances that liven things up (in particular James Earl Jones, who up-ends his character’s stuffy lines with a downright demented energy), and it’s fascinating to see the early days of Marvel (given that much of the narrative occurs at Marvel headquarters, complete with a Stan Lee cameo), so all in all, this is a terrific, electrifying little B-movie thriller that positively glides through its 96 minute running time.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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