Thursday, July 21, 2016

#TBT: Take a Ride on Larry Cohen's THE AMBULANCE (1990) starring Eric Roberts from ER 39

If it's Thursday it must be time for another review ripped screaming from the pages of Exploitation Retrospect: The Original 43. This week's review was inspired by a recent viewing of the film in question by ER contributor Devin Kelly. The ensuing on-line chatter about Larry Cohen's THE AMBULANCE sent me digging for issue number 39 and my original thoughts on this underrated thriller from the mind behind such classics as PERFECT STRANGERS, Q and the IT'S ALIVE films.

Like much of the work in his checkered cinematic career, Larry Cohen's THE AMBULANCE played to few (if any) theatrical audiences before making its way to video shelves. And again, like much of his recent output (THE STUFF, RETURN TO SALEM'S LOT, ISLAND OF THE ALIVE), the inattention seems unwarranted. Not that THE AMBULANCE belongs in the upper strata of Cohen flicks occupied by BLACK CAESAR, Q and IT'S ALIVE!, but it does show the same spirited junky fun that marks all of the writer / director / producer's eclectic work.

Eric Roberts – fast becoming an ER fav – stars as a Marvel Comics cartoonist who has a chance meeting with a young woman on her way to a doctor's appointment (Jeanine Turner in a chubby-faced, pre- NORTHERN EXPOSURE role). When she collapses on the street and is whisked away by a vintage ambulance, the cartoonist goes on a mission to find her. With only her first name at his disposal, Roberts continually runs into roadblocks thrown up by hospital staff, the NYPD, and his own employer (woodenly portrayed by real-life Marvel honcho Stan Lee).

Despite initial thoughts to the contrary, the story has something to do with a nefarious scheme involving the use of diabetics as guinea pigs for a scientific/white slavery ring... but it isn't really that important. In fact, the sinister plot is visibly lacking in creepiness, one of the few knocks I can make against THE AMBULANCE. Like all of Cohen's work, the flick's strength lies in the characterization, set-ups and scenes... he continually places characters that we've grown to like to seemingly inescapable, life-ending situations.

With a strong lead turn from Roberts (also great in the dreadful FINAL ANALYSIS and the loud, brilliant BEST OF THE BEST 2) and clever supporting bits from James Earl Jones and Red Buttons, THE AMBULANCE is more fun that it has any right to be. A great beer and Macanudo fick. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and a contributor to the recently published book, KLAUS KINSKI, BEAST OF CINEMA: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews (McFarland). He last wrote about MARTIAL OUTLAW for VHS Wednesday.

THE AMBULANCE is available from Amazon.

No comments: