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‘Mile 22’ crafts action and violence well, but not much more

 By Bill Mazzola

August 17, 2018

Peanut Butter and Jelly. Peas and Carrots. Cheech and Chong. Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg. Some things are just meant to go together, for better – or in this case, for worse. This is the fourth action-packed, flag-waving, adrenaline fest from actor/producer Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, following Lone Survivor (2013), Patriots Day, and Deepwater Horizon (both 2016), and their first not to be based (however loosely) on real life events. But fear not, gentle reader. Whatever gravity the film lacks because it’s not a “true” story, it makes up for – or rather attempts to – by injecting an almost mind-boggling amount of testosterone. The result is an orgy of violence that, while it does showcase some fairly tense and spectacularly staged set pieces, comes off like a darker, dumber, more violent Jason Bourne wannabe.

Wahlberg plays Jimmy Silva, a paramilitary officer who is part of an off-the-books CIA task force that works in conjunction with their remote intelligence team, codenamed Overwatch. Overwatch is led by “Bishop” – played by John Malkovich (because, of course) with a ruthless efficiency that matches the flat-top buzz cut he’s sporting. This team pulls off the kind of missions that, in Mission: Impossible parlance – the government would disavow all knowledge of. To hammer that point home, the members of Jimmy’s team literally resign before each mission.

John Malkovich as James Bishop and CL as Queen courtesy of STXfilms

Sixteen months after one of these covert missions goes south – in a tensely effective tense opening scene – the team finds itself in an unnamed Southeast Asian nation trying to find a deadly chemical agent that has gone missing. Into the American embassy saunters Li Noor (The Raid’s Iko Uwais) a local cop who somehow knows where the missing chemicals are – but will only give up the info if he’s given asylum in America. Without options, Jimmy Silva and his team must make the trek from the embassy to an airfield to get Li safely on a plane. The journey is you guessed it: 22 Miles long. Unbeknownst to the team, a group of Russian hackers complicate matters by infiltrating Overwatch and feeding information to the corrupt local government – keeping them one step ahead of the “good” guys.

From this point on, the film unfolds as a chase in damn near real time. It’s a rollicking binge of guns, grenades, and violence. I promise you, you’ll never look at a broken car window the same again. The bodies predictably add up, but — maybe not so predictably —  they add up on both sides. Maybe that’s the point Berg and Wahlberg were trying to get at – in the world we currently live in, there is no right side. The film holds up a mirror to a world in chaos and upheaval.

Mark Wahlberg as James Silva and Iko Uwais as Li Noo courtesy of STXfilms

No one can deny Berg’s precision as an action director. He’s a true maestro of malevolence, and if this film has a high point it’s the chaotic, propulsive, quickly edited action sequences. Of particular note are the moments featuring Iko Uwais who, like Jackie Chan on steroids, is a human special effect. If anything, eliminating one or two of the chaotic gunfights in favor of a couple more scenes showcasing Uwais ability to seemingly defy the laws of physics would have made things more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the action pieces in Mile 22 are about the only thing worth writing home about. Lea Carpenter’s script doesn’t do the actors any favors. Wahlberg’s Jimmy is a “been there, seen everything” agent, constantly spewing unfiltered rapid-fire prose about history, espionage, art (yes, art) – really anything that floats through his brain. All he cares about is the objective. He doesn’t give a rip about his team, but that’s ok – because he’s cursed by his genius (cue eye roll). He’s Rain Man crossed with Jason Bourne. The question the film seems to be asking is whether he’s smart or crazy? Or is he perhaps both? It doesn’t help his “genius” cred that he can’t figure out how the bad guys are one step ahead of him the whole time. But instead of really trying to figure it out – Berg opts to just pile on more bodies and blood, trying to plug up those plot holes with gore.

Ronda Rousey as Sam Snow courtesy of STXfilms

The rest of his team don’t fare much better. The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan is dealing with a divorce and custody battle back home, in a token attempt to convince the audience to care about her. Unfortunately, she’s not given nearly enough time for it to really sink in, and even more unfortunately — what she gets is still better than rest of the group. UFC legend Ronda Rousey’s presence is the most notable in the group, but she and everyone else aren’t given much to do besides kick ass and look good doing it. Really, Jimmy’s team could have been played by crash test dummies, and the result would have been startlingly similar.

Wahlberg and Berg appear to have hit their high-water mark with 2016’s Patriots Day, as this film takes a considerable step backwards. In fact, it is easily the weakest of their four film collaboration. Mile 22 crafts action and violence well, but has very little in terms of weight or emotional resonance. I’ve never actually been in the vicinity of a concussion grenade going off, but I imagine it was a lot like leaving the theater after this film. Something happened, it was really violent, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was and my head hurts.

Star Rating: 2 out of 5

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