Movie Review – Mile 22
Of the several films that Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg have made in collaboration, this one has got to be the worse. It’s a shame because this movie gives Iko Uwais, the Indonesian martial artist and action star, an American platform but not the platform he deserves, effectively underutilizing him. The best Berg-Wahlberg collaboration remains their first together, Lone Survivor (2013), a war movie that’s essentially a near 2-hour, one-long, action scene that’s unflinching and sustained from beginning to end. Every movie they’ve done since then has tried to live up to that 2013 blockbuster, but unfortunately the two have never had the written material to support doing another Lone Survivor until now. It’s a shame because they have the material and yes this film is another Lone Survivor, except instead of letting the action speak for itself and involving us in the characters, Berg leans in with a lot of his filmmaking ticks that ultimately distract rather than enhance.
Wahlberg stars as James Silva, a CIA agent stationed at a U.S. Embassy in some Indochinese country, possibly Indonesia. He’s introduced to us in a montage similar to the montage that opens Lone Survivor. However, instead of underlining the tough training and strength that Navy SEAL members require, as well as their endurance and courage under fire, the opening in this movie seems designed only to show that Silva is a psychopath or a person with a history of violence, even as a child, which luckily was channeled into a career in the military but it doesn’t leave you with the same rousing feelings as in Lone Survivor. If anything, it makes you fearful of Silva, as if he could be a bad guy, though I suppose it’s in line with the recent trend of antiheroes.
Unfortunately, it backfires because Wahlberg’s performance is so manic and annoying that it kills all charm and personality that could have endeared us to him in any way. Wahlberg’s Silva is loud and abrasive. He’s overly aggressive, an aggressiveness that could be justified, given the plot revolves around trying to stop nuclear bombs, but, it seems more unnecessary given this year’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout also revolved around nuclear bombs but Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt never explodes like a nuclear bomb himself unlike Silva. Silva goes off like a drill sergeant on crack or heroin in moments that aren’t fair. Berg perhaps sees comedy in these moments, but it’s just Silva being a jerk for no reason. Plus, Silva has a constant voice-over narration that makes his personality and presence even more annoying.
Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries) co-stars as Alice Kerr, a fellow CIA agent who is in the process of a custody battle or some kind of legal dispute with her ex. She’s part of a team with Silva that does covert operations to stop terrorists or foreign countries from infiltrating the United States or initiating attacks. When a source provides her with sketchy intelligence, Silva goes off on her. She, however, can give as good as she gets and can explode with expletives too. Her rat-a-tat dialogue with Silva is laced with a lot of curse words. Berg perhaps sees comedy in Alice’s back-and-forth with Silva or he thinks it’s supposed to be endearing too, but it simply reinforces the manic and annoying nature of the whole thing.
Iko Uwais (Headshot and The Raid: Redemption) also co-stars as Li Noor, the source for Alice about the location of nuclear weapons. He’s saved the information on a hard drive that’s encrypted and he’s the only one who can open it. He says he won’t open it unless he’s given free passage to the U.S., but Silva only has eight hours or else the hard drive will automatically erase.
Silva and his team will do it, but the closest military transport is an airport that’s 22 miles away, thus giving this movie its title. The problem is that Li Noor betrayed his government to get the nuclear information and now they want him back and that Indochinese government, led by Axel, played by Sam Medina (Kickboxer: Retaliation), will do anything to get him back, even wage war on the streets of its own city, regardless of civilian casualties, which is one of the many things that defies credulity here.
The first bit of credulity-defying is the fact that the Taliban fighters in Lone Survivor put up a better battle than the Indochinese government does here. It’s ridiculous because obviously the Indochinese have more resources. It’s also ridiculous because the Indochinese seem to have just as much scruples as the Taliban, as to disregard civilians in the streets. Axel actually firebombs a bakery with a little girl in it with no kind of hesitation. It goes toward a general idea that villainizes all these brown people or else victimizes the rest. It’s something that Lone Survivor was able to avoid by empowering the Afghanis to fight along side Wahlberg’s character.
Here, Uwais’ Li Noor is supposed to be that equivalent. Without spoiling too much, Li Noor is not exactly the Indonesian equivalent of the Afghani who helped Wahlberg’s character in the 2013 hit film. As a character, Li Noor is developed more than that Afghani character, but I felt more of a connection to that Afghani than I did Li Noor and it’s not clear if that’s intentional or not, but it would have been better if that connection was felt.
Knowing Uwais is in this film, one expects a significant amount of martial arts. Uwais made a name for himself in The Raid: Redemption (2012), an incredible martial arts film that showed off and boasted Uwais’ amazing skills. It might be because Uwais is not the lead here, but those amazing skills are on display but they’re not boasted as they were in Uwais’ leading roles prior to this. Berg simply doesn’t give Uwais enough to do when it’s clear he’s the main attraction here. Wahlberg’s manic monologues or gunplay simply don’t satisfy.
Speaking of which, like Avengers: Infinity War, this movie ends on a cliffhanger. I didn’t know it prior to seeing this film, but it was designed to be the first part of a trilogy. Yet, the reason the cliffhanger worked in Avengers: Infinity War is because we came to care about the villain, even a villain who wanted to commit genocide. For that matter, we came to care about the heroes. This movie fails to do either.
Like Lone Survivor, all the members of the hero’s team are picked off one by one leaving only Wahlberg’s character. By that time, Wahlberg’s character was endeared to us. The same isn’t true here. Silva is the only man left standing, but he isn’t endeared to us. Whether he lives or dies is of no concern.
In order to be revealed at the end as a kind of M. Night Shyamalan twist, the motivations and machinations of the villain are kept secret until the very last minute. It sets up the events for the next film but does nothing for this film currently. It would have been better if the villain-reveal had been saved for whatever installment is to come.
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.