The latest Peter Berg / Mark Wahlberg collaboration ‘Mile 22’ is not only a nonsensical, poorly framed action movie, it’s straight up bad on just about every level beyond the purely physical parts of ‘The Raid’ movies’ star Iko Uwais’ performance. Maybe it’s the fact that the latest masterful ‘Mission: Impossible’ is so fresh in mind. Maybe it’s the dull color palette and jittery, dizzying hand-held action. Maybe it’s the utterly misguided, confusing, boilerplate, vulgar-for-the-sake-of-being-vulgar screenplay. Maybe it’s just Marky Mark’s strange acting choices.
‘Mile 22’s idea of characterization is setting up Wahlberg’s Jimmy Silva as an orphaned, genius-level CIA ________ (assassin, field director, asshole, it’s not clear, except for the last part) with anger management issues over an opening credits peppered with quotes from every POTUS from Bush Sr. to Trump espousing the need for covert operations in maintaining freedom and safety. Silva attempts to calm his mind and avoid outbursts by incessantly snapping a yellow plastic wristband, apparently given to him by his mother to control his anger through pain. Not only is this a ridiculous idea that is truly annoying to watch on screen, particularly when director Berg jump-cuts to the snap, it is obviously not effective because quite frankly, Wahlberg’s character is truly terrible at his job and alienates everyone he comes into contact with. There’s nothing ‘covert’ about this guy who barges into a ladies locker room to berate his subordinates, barges into an office at the US embassy of a fictional Southeast Asian country to berate government officials, and barges into poorly realized action sequences in which he barely does anything at all except yell at everyone.
Not to simply harp on Wahlberg’s performance and horrible line readings as the nadir of this film, as the rest of the production doesn’t fare much better. What should be a simple, tense set-up teased in the trailer (Wahlberg’s team of badasses have to get an asset through 22 miles of hostile urban territory) becomes a convoluted mess that tries way too hard on multiple levels. It’s hard to believe that an accomplished (if inconsistent) director like Peter Berg (put ‘Friday Night Lights’, ‘Lone Survivor’, & ‘The Rundown’ in the good column and ‘Patriot’s Day’, ‘Battleship’, & ‘Hancock’ in the not so good column) had such trouble wrangling this mess into a streamlined white-knuckler, particularly when the asset is the amazing martial artist Iko Uwais. Every time the film stops to allow him to do his thing, it truly comes alive. It’s too bad that Ronda Rousey, Lauren Cohan (fresh off ‘The Walking Dead’ and swearing up a storm – if this is her plan to follow up leaving TWD, ugh), and yes, that’s John Malkovich in a very interesting hair choice, don’t fare better. Cohan in particular (as Silva’s protégé, maybe?) gets the lamest (and pseudo-offensive) subplot as an estranged mother whose ex (Berg himself!) is increasingly alienating her from their daughter, exasperating her (hence the foul mouth) and taking her focus off her work. She is constantly distracted by some sort of livestreaming divorced family app on a satellite phone (is this really a thing?!) To Malkovich’s likely literal phone-it-in chagrin, he is relegated to the off-site lead Ops director of this most highly secret force (dubbed Overwatch, blah) within the CIA, that by design has to be thousands of miles away.
Peter Berg has increasingly churned out material with his muse Wahlberg to variable degrees of success. Starting with ‘Lone Survivor’ in 2013, this is their 4th big screen collaboration in five years, not to mention co-producing ‘Ballers’ on HBO as well as directing other episodes of television and a music video for Maroon 5. The overarching aspect of his work has always skewed toward macho posturing, starting with ‘Very Bad Things’ in 1998, after primarily acting in a variety of television and film, but nothing can prepare for the bordering-on-toxic masculinity on display in this very lazy, cobbled together production. It might do him a great service to just slow it down a bit to regain his artistic merit – there was an authentic, small town aura pervading over his best work like FNL (both the movie and the masterful show), where he coaxed indelible performances out of his actors and actresses. Wahlberg’s got it in him too, with the right director and material – Berg can still be that director, but their franchise bid in ‘Mile 22’ is not that material . . .
Directed By: Peter Berg
Written By: Lea Carpenter
Running Time: 95 min.
* (out of 4 stars) -OR- D