"Quit monologuing, you bipolar fuck!"
This is the rather un-PC insult that Bishop (John Malkovich) – the leader of a covert team of "third option" operatives (who are essentially called upon when all other means of American force fail) – slings at James Silva (Mark Wahlberg), his point man on the ground during their latest mission gone bad. Besides being another instance of bizarre, macho posturing (more on this in a second), this outlandish diss sums up this writer's main problem with Mile 22. Anytime Peter Berg's breathlessly paced, barely plotted action picture stops to showcase Wahlberg's bullish, on the spectrum man of violence, it's like nails on a chalkboard. Yet when the movie just shuts the fuck up and Berg lets the large caliber mayhem fly fast and furious, it's a decently diverting slice of chaos cinema.
The story to Mile 22 – so much as there is one – revolves around a ticking clock and a literally measurable narrative objective. The aforementioned CIA paramilitary unit is ordered to transport a Southeast Asian cop (Iko Uwais) twenty-two miles to a Russian transport plane so he can reveal state secrets (that are locked in a computer program that’s counting down to zero and only he knows the code). His corrupt higher-ups – who'd understandably prefer if said secrets not be exposed – employ their own thugs to try and kill the defective officer and his escorts. With Berg, the bare bones premise makes for a gnarly action romp, full of his trademark tactile carnage and debris raining down from multiple explosions. With the addition of Uwais – who also aided in the close quarters choreography – some truly bone-shattering instances of hand-to-hand combat augment the impressively bloody shootouts.
With the right movie star, Mile 22 could've been an all-timer. Instead, the movie stars Mark Wahlberg. Silva – who suffers from anti-social ailments and seems to only speak in the most combative tones possible – becomes a vessel through which Marky Mark can implement every single one of his very worst performative impulses. You want to see the actor swipe a cupcake off the table and scream "no birthday cake for you!" at one of his team members? Mile 22 is the movie for you. How about Wahlberg barging into each conversation like if they don't give him the right answer, he's going to drone strike their families and friends? Mile 22 is the movie for you. Berg's established a bizarre shorthand with the actor through multiple collaborations, and now they've essentially made a companion piece to The Accountant; only every probably autistic tic isn't exploited as a superpower (as in Ben Affleck's equally baffling pulp assassin tale), but rather an excuse for Silva to just be a giant dickhead. It’s weird as hell.
Thankfully, Peter Berg doesn't give a damn anymore about watching his actors act. He's here to blow shit up and mangle human bodies with bullets and Uwais' weaponized fists. Thus begins a massive visual dick measuring contest wherein Silva shows down with the muscled lead of his team's pursuers (Sam Medina) over and over again. Backing up Berg's Lone Survivor and Patriot's Day compatriot are a pair of hardcore ladies (Lauren Cohan and Ronda Rousey) and a few other guys who look like overly muscled bartenders from Brooklyn, all armed with automatic weapons. Meanwhile, Silva spits barely veiled jingoistic rhetoric at a team of investigators during the story’s non-linear framing device – lines like "you think you know the definition of 'collusion'?" – as Mile 22 becomes a genre bullhorn for Berg to shout his insidious right-wing politics at the top of his lungs. It’s wholly abrasive, making the wait for a too-oft-handcuffed Uwais to be unleashed on these nameless, brown attackers seem interminable at times.
Recently, Berg shared an Instagram video of him berating regular editor Colby Parker Jr. – not to mention another of him kicking it in the cutting bay with Michael Bay – which might explain why Mile 22 is chopped and screwed within an inch of its life. Though the former Michael Mann protégé has somewhat lost his way – both in terms of the overall quality of his pictures, as well as his addiction to out and out nationalistic chauvinism – he's always been quite adept at choreographing extreme violence. With Mile 22, his regular camera operator Jacques Jouffret has been upgraded to director of photography, and does a solid job capturing the hazy, smoky miasma of destruction that's come to define Berg's post-Kingdom exercises in (para)military melodrama.
Only Parker's aneurism-inducing splices make even the simplest dialogue scenes puzzlingly unfocused. When this method of cinematic assembly is applied to set pieces, geography and clarity are sacrificed in service of overly busy montages that were never Berg's signature. If we’re comparing the action in this to the clean setups in Lone Survivor, it feels like the two works came from radically different commercial artists. Why Berg thinks that even the most routine moment of exposition has to be filtered through a Vitamix stuck on the “liquefy” setting will remain a mystery that'll probably never be solved (because, let's face it, barely anyone is going to give a shit about Mile 22 in six month’s time).
Nevertheless, the brutality and physical prowess Uwais brings to Mile 22 almost make up for the fact that Berg destroys what was probably some impressive coverage in post. Had the movie not been such an obvious love letter from one director bro to his Bah-stin brother from another mother – right down to bringing back "say hi to your mother for me" in the most outlandish fashion possible – and focused more on The Raid import, it probably would've turned out a hell of a lot better. Instead, what we're stuck with is the least technically impressive piece of pure action Berg has made since embarking on his post-Battleship commitment to American "excellence". Is Mile 22 perfectly passable as a Friday Night Redbox Special? Hell yes. But recommending it as anything beyond that would feel like promising Ruth's Chris and then delivering a Wahlburger.
Mile 22 is in theaters now.