‘Mile 22’ is a long way from a satisfying action movie
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Lea Carpenter
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich, and Ronda Rousey
“Mile 22” – Twenty-one years ago, film critics and fans began taking Mark Wahlberg’s acting career very seriously with his memorable performance as Eddie Adams (aka Dirk Diggler), an awkward bus boy turned porn star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wild 70s piece “Boogie Nights” (1997). With Wahlberg’s charisma and built-in bankability via his music career, he excelled as an action hero and leading man in “Three Kings” (1999), “Rock Star” (2001) and “The Italian Job” (2003), but raised the bar in 2006 with a Best Supporting Actor nomination as Dignam, a fast-talking detective in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”.
In “Mile 22”, he teams up with director Peter Berg – after their collaborations in “Lone Survivor” (2013), “Deepwater Horizon” (2016) and “Patriots Day” (2016) – in an espionage thriller set somewhere in Southeast Asia (that resembles Indonesia, but was actually filmed in Colombia), and Wahlberg channels a small portion of Dignam’s persona as Lt. James Silva. Silva is a special ops soldier - for Overwatch, a group of good guy/girl mercenaries - but he carries noticeably less charm than Dignam and a lot more talk.
A lot more. Let’s call it chatter.
Actually, let’s call it incessant chatter, because Silva does not seem to stop expressing his hardened views about Overwatch’s duties and the horrible consequences if they fail their missions. In fact, in a terribly distracting job of editing, Silva seems to randomly spew extensive monologues for no reason whatsoever. For instance, our stressed-out lieutenant screams at a computer programmer about the fallout from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while she’s already succumbing to enough pressure trying to crack an impossible code. Other times, supporting characters engage in various discourses in office settings, but Berg – for unknown reasons – suddenly drops in long stretches of Silva rambling on and on - to someone else entirely - about his team members and that “they are very real and get s*** done.”
During the film’s 95-minute runtime, Silva’s long-winded, painful soliloquies of gunplay, teamwork and attitude probably comprise 35, and this estimate may be light. No one on-screen seems to be listening, and this critic certainly tuned him out after the first act.
Oh, what takes place during the first, second and third acts?
Silva and his tactical team - including Alice (Lauren Cohan) and Sam (Ronda Rousey) – need to transport a cagey undercover agent named Li Noor (Iko Uwais) from a nondescript special operations complex to a small airfield, and the distance is 22 miles. You see, Li Noor handed over a cryptic file that spells out several locations of radioactive material, and he will reveal the secret code once he is safely flying out of the country.
Take away Silva’s nonsensical diatribes that brandish his machismo, and that leaves about 60 minutes of an actual story. Most of it is positioned in an urban setting with Silva’s small team shooting limitless numbers of faceless bad guys who feel compelled to capture or kill Li Noor. The action is nonstop and kinetic, but not particularly suspenseful. Even though Silva’s team copes with distress, the constant gunfire feels like a video game with no real stakes, and other than Alice - fiercely-played by Cohan – it is difficult to muster emotional investment with anyone else.
Meanwhile, Berg cannot seem to hold a shot for more than two or three seconds, as both gunfights and average hallway conversations needlessly cut and jump in a dizzying overediting job perhaps not seen since “Moulin Rouge!” (2001). That’s not a compliment.
With thousands of bullets filling the second and third acts, “Mile 22” is actually best complimented during two enclosed hand-to-hand brawls featuring Li Noor and Alice, although they do not fight each other. The movie could have used more such moments, and Rousey barely has chances to show off her close-range fighting skills, except briefly in the opening sequence. That doesn’t make sense, and neither does Silva’s uncanny ability to solve jigsaw puzzles.
“Mile 22” is a head scratcher, as it unfolds like a watered-down combination of “Black Hawk Down” (2001) and “The Raid: Redemption” (2011). Fans of those films might find glimpses of them here, but will also be reminded that “Mile 22” is an inferior version. Speaking of “Black Hawk Down”, why doesn’t Silva just rent a helicopter to transport Li Noor over those fateful 22 miles, instead of slogging it out in the streets? That would seem easier, but perhaps he was too busy gabbing to think of it.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.