Filmmaker Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg have made a good team. Their previous three collaborations have resulted in two great movies (“Lone Survivor” and “Patriots Day“), along with one good one (“Deepwater Horizon“). That’s a rock solid win streak. Well, that streak comes to an end with “Mile 22,” a generic action flick in every way. Going from dramatic retellings of heroic events to fictional shoot em up, Berg and Wahlberg seem on autopilot. With spasmodic cinematography, a mean streak, bland characterization, and atrocious editing, you’d be right to expect more. After spending much of the last half decade building up some critical credibility and goodwill, this puts Berg right back towards his “Battleship” days. We deserved more from all involved here.
“Mile 22” has some cheap thrills going in its favor. In particular, any action scene that has Iko Uwais doing his trademark fight choreography. Then, there’s occasional witty remarks from the cast. When Wahlberg’s character name drops Steve Bannon, you’ll chuckle. The same goes for a darkly comedic moment involving a drone strike. These moments are too few and far between, though. Too often, the movie is bleak, bloody, and mean spirited. Berg had gotten pretty good recently at trying to make you cry. Here, he seems to be going in the opposite direction.
The film drops us right into a mission in progress for the elite team we’ll be following. Led by James Silva (Wahlberg), the tactical command unit is a top secret wing of the special forces. When the government needs something done off the books, Silva and his operatives are who get the call. With surgical precision, they take out a group of Russian intelligence officers on American soil, though as Silva explains in sequences inserted from time to time, they killed the wrong person. They just didn’t know it at the time.
Months later, Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) is working on an informant who has information about a potential terrorist attack. The asset is a cop named Li Noor (Uwais), and when he walks into the American embassy in Indonesia, the clock begins ticking on getting him to safety. You see, he has the information on an encrypted hard drive, which he’ll only decrypt once he’s sent to America. So, Silva and company get to work.
Now activated, the team, which includes Bishop (John Malkovich) and M.I.T. (Emily Skeggs) back at home base, as well as Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey) on the ground, aims to keep Noor protected. Obviously, a lot of folks want the man dead, so with their mission almost immediately compromised, Silva has to try and keep him alive. Insert a ton of action sequences, building up to a twist ending that sets up a potential sequel. Sadly, the twist is easy to see coming, and the sequel is not one that you’ll particularly want to see.
This is one of the more generic action heroes that Mark Wahlberg has ever portrayed. Despite some attempts at personality quirks, he’s just a guy with a big gun who can’t be killed. Instead of being along the lines of his prior Berg collaborations, it feels more like his forgettable work. Think closer to “2 Guns” or “Contraband” than “Deepwater Horizon,” “Lone Survivor,” or “Patriots Day.” He’s set up to be this perfect soldier of sorts, but even that is under developed. It’s just half baked characterization all around. Wahlberg is left on an island to just shoot guns and periodically crack wise.
As poorly served as Wahlberg is, the supporting players draw even shorter straws. “Mile 22” wants you to be invested in the team, but it doesn’t invest much in them. Lauren Cohan gets a divorce subplot that goes nowhere, while the likes of John Malkovich and Rhonda Rousey have no personality whatsoever. Uwais is on hand to be a badass, and does that well, but hints about his family and what happened to them don’t pay off at all. Wasting him is a cinematic crime. In addition to the aforementioned Emily Skeggs, the cast also includes Carlo Alban, Terry Kinney, and more. Wahlberg is the star though, so it’s a shame that he’s so underserved.
Peter Berg puts forth his least inspired direction in some time here. “Mile 22” shows very little of the touch he displayed in “Patriots Day,” for example. The cinematography by Jacques Jouffret is overly shaky, with quick cut upon quick cut making it hard to tell what’s going on. That’s particularly egregious when Uwais is doing his thing. Berg’s direction is more interested in violence and tricking you into thinking there’s intensity than actually developing any. Frankly, if you could see what was happening half of the time, that would have gone a long way. Instead, it’s often indecipherable.
The script from Lea Carpenter and Graham Roland thinks that it’s better than it is. Take for example, the intercutting of Wahlberg being interviewed about what went wrong on the mission. Its only purpose is for, in the final moments, to set up a second installment, so the rest of it is monologuing nonsense. That’s true for much of Malkovich’s operative too. He spends way too much time telling veteran team members the basics of what they’re doing. Whenever this happens, our interest wanes.
The thing about “Mile 22” is that there was potential in Berg and Wahlberg tackling something original. This could have been a gritty and visceral action flick. Instead, it’s just a higher budgeted and gorier version of what we see play on TNT and USA all the time. If you’ve been hoping that the pair would be the next great actor/filmmaker team, this should give you pause. “Mile 22” just can’t go the distance.