Monday, April 11, 2011

Don't Chase This Ambulance: "The Ambulance" (1990)

The AmbulanceSome film reviewers have been accused of giving away too much plot in their synopses- spoilers that ruin the film for the audience. "The Ambulance" marks the first time I found a film where a writer/director mucked up his own work with a spoiler.

Josh (Eric Roberts) spots Cheryl (Janine Turner) on the streets and turns on the charm, trying to pick her up. Cheryl is polite but tries to brush him off, before suddenly collapsing. She is diabetic, and Josh promises to visit her in the hospital when the ambulance arrives to take her away.

The problem is, Josh cannot find Cheryl. He tries local hospitals, the hospital the anonymous ambulance attendee gave, and no one has seen or heard of her. Josh goes to nutty police lieutenant Spencer (James Earl Jones), but he is of no help. Josh does meet Spencer's cute assistant officer Sandra (Megan Gallagher), but must still look for Cheryl on his own. Josh is a comic book artist (giving Stan Lee a completely unnecessary cameo), and draws posters of Cheryl, eventually attracting her diabetic roommate. Josh and the roommate go to a place Cheryl has told them to go in a frantic phone message, and the old ambulance takes the roommate, too.

The cops still don't believe Josh, and he himself ends up in the hospital next to old newspaper reporter Elias (Red Buttons). Elias believes him, and saves Josh from the evil ambulance crew. They escape the hospital, conveniently find the ambulance, and now we watch Elias get taken. Sandra finally believes him, and the pair track the ambulance. Josh is mugged, the damn ambulance FINALLY gets him, Josh escapes, and the final mission and crazed doctor's motive is revealed- well, that happened about ten minutes in.

Here is where I spoil the spoiler. While the viewer must sit and watch Josh escape from all of these perilous situations, we already know why the ambulance is picking people up. Immediately after Cheryl is kidnapped, the unnamed doctor (Eric Braeden) reveals his diabolical plan to her, thereby killing any suspense for the rest of the film. I was half-expecting something along the lines of "Christine," with a creepy mysterious old ambulance picking up unsuspecting New Yorkers, who are never seen again. Instead, Cohen opts for a standard action script. There is nothing supernatural about the whole thing.

Eric Roberts is very good as Josh, and his comic timing with some of the throw away one-liners makes them funnier than they really are. Megan Gallagher makes Sandra a smart cop, never making a stupid mistake just to draw out the film's action or running time. James Earl Jones and Red Buttons are a little sad in their respective roles, it is hard to watch Oscar worthy talent like this reduced to crazy and foul mouthed roles just to pay the bills.

Cohen's action sequences are very good. Watching that huge ambulance careening through the streets of New York City is a spectacle. However, with his own spoiler in the opening moments of the film, watching Roberts run around and get beat up for an hour and a half really wears on the nerves. By the time Josh is held in another police precinct as a witness on a murder unrelated to the film's plot, I gave up. "The Ambulance" held a lot of potential and an interesting cast, too bad it could not hold my attention. (* *) out of five stars.