WARNING: This review contains a minor spoiler.
Mile 22 is an action film starring Mark Wahlberg, directed by Peter Berg. From that sentence alone, you’re bound to have some expectations. The fourth outing for the pair after Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriot Day, the film is riddled with the Battleship director’s signature machismo jingoism – and unfortunately, not much else to keep it from going out of control. One of the more depressingly mediocre films of the season, Mile 22 is an action-thriller that provides neither the action nor the thrills.
Wahlberg joins John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan and Ronda Rousey as a member of a classified American spec ops team (Overwatch), who calls themselves the “third option” if diplomacy and military force fails. Their mission is relatively simple: to deliver a walk-in, played by Iko Uwais, to a nearby airstrip, 22 miles away (hence the title). They are constantly threatened by the ruthless police force of the country – unnamed and situated in Southeast Asia – often leaving their injured teammates behind. It is a simple setup. Or it should have been. Sadly, simplicity and clarity are not the film’s defining features.
The problem with quick cuts starts early. Since Iko Uwais’ own landmark action film, The Raid, action fans have been moving away from quick editing style of Michael Bay and the Bourne-copycats, but Mile 22 ignores the recent trend in the genre. Instead, that style seems to be the only way for the film to convey any sense of urgency. The effect it generates is mostly incoherent, however, which means most action scenes seem lazily put together – without offering much clarity for the audience to understand just what the heck is going on.
The effect [quick editing] generates is mostly incoherent, however, leaving its action scenes to seem lazily put together – without offering much clarity for the audience to understand just what the heck is going on.
If there are any thrilling moments in the film, the jumbled editing makes it impossible to salvage them. Any action sequence that does not bore the audience features Iko Uwais’ famed choreography, yet even his work is mutilated. Many of the inventive moves of the Indonesian actor are only partially visible, buried deep in the chaotic editing that simply refuses to punctuate any kind of contact.
The director inserts a variety of shots from surveillance cameras in a shoddy attempt at realism, but they in the end disorient the audience even further. These shots, often used in modern spy thrillers to provide suspense, instead disrupt the ongoing action. They distance the audience from the action, if for some reason they weren’t already.
The whole film operates as a sort of “mission report” type of flashback, where Mark Wahlberg’s character constantly interrupts in-between scenes to provide vague remarks about the mission, which often end before the audience has a chance to comprehend what has been said. These scenes only disorient viewers; some of them appear out of nowhere and almost never provide any useful information. What should be a relatively simple story becomes needlessly convoluted and far too uninteresting to endure.
This gets even worse by the intrusion of scenes involving the Russian military. These scenes lay the groundwork for the ending, yet the film inserts them with such lack of precision that they further muddle the story. Once the audience comes to grasp their purpose, however, the ending becomes far too predictable. The film’s pace has no sense of cohesion; it is a jumbled pile of puzzle pieces that don’t fit, perhaps because they were never meant to. Once the film reveals what it was all about, one can’t help but wonder whether this chaotic mess was necessary.
The editing isn’t the only culprit here, however. The script itself makes reaching 22 miles even more of an excruciating task than it already is. Written by Lea Carpenter, it barely provides any stakes that grip the audience into staying with the film. The previous three projects by the director-actor duo all based themselves on a true story. One can freely criticize the films’ handling of these events, but they all still had stories that mattered. Mile 22, on the other hand, lazily throws out current issues (“collusion” for example) like a pack of candies during Halloween. “It’s the Great Game,” Mark Wahlberg’s character remarks. But the game ain’t fun and no amount of bullets or f-bombs can save it.
Speaking of f-bombs, let’s talk about Mark Wahlberg’s performance. Playing the bipolar (or the “asshole”) leader of the spec ops team, Wahlberg does his best to channel his inner Jesse Eisenberg and make his character as unlikable as possible. It is one thing to have a distanced main character who is so entrenched in the world of violence that the audience cannot empathize with him; Wahlberg’s character instead actively intervenes to make sure the audience strongly hates him.
Same goes for the other cast as well. Cohan’s character spews curse words as fast as her bullets (and Mark Wahlberg), while Ronda Rousey plays, well, Ronda Rousey. I have no idea how John Malkovich ended up here, but man, I hope they at least paid him well. Iko Uwais thankfully isn’t as tarnished, but mostly because the film does not give him a chance to develop. He’s the mystery Asian man. He must stay mysterious.
If the film has anything up its sleeve, it would be the ending. The laughably inconsequential demise of the main villain aside, the last twist does provide a deviation from the action drama cliché. However, even the novelty of the twist is marred by the terrible editing. The clues are dropped so carelessly throughout the film that one has to wonder, “are they really going to make that the twist?”
And they do, making it less shocking and more frustrating when you realize you actually finished watching this film.