‘Mile 22’ Review: A Marathon of Action Movie Misery
Iko Uwais might be the most physically talented action star on the planet. His work in Merantau, Headshot, and The Raid films speaks for itself. He barely needs the assistance of wires or stuntmen; he definitely doesn’t need editing help to hide his doubles or make him look tougher than he is. If you’re going to cut up your film’s fight scenes to the point where you can’t see who is doing what to whom why even bother hiring him? You might as well just cast ... well, Mark Wahlberg.
Mile 22, a miserable slog of an action film, features both men. It is a deeply confused picture. It wants to be a slick action movie, but it’s also a violent mess. It wants to be a serious depiction of the toll war takes on these elite soldiers, but it also features a character quoting an infamous Saturday Night Live sketch making fun of Mark Wahlberg. It’s so intensely macho, with utterly humorless killers screaming tough guy clichés at each other, that it plays like a parody. Mile 22 makes Hot Shots! Part Deux looks like a nuanced depiction of war.
Wahlberg plays the main character, a CIA officer named Jimmy Silva. Jimmy, we learn, was a child prodigy whose mind “moves faster than others.” He used his remarkable intellect to become a killer for the U.S. government. As one does.
Jimmy also grew up to be quite a jerk, and not even a lovable one. He mistreats his colleagues and abuses his underlings. He screams at a fellow member of his team (Lauren Cohan) who misses her daughter and demands she focus on their work. On a co-worker’s birthday he swats their cake off the table and ruins it. He professes his hatred of nerds who use computers, spends his spare time solving jigsaw puzzles with no pictures. Mile 22’s main story is intercut with Jimmy giving some kind of secret testimony, mostly in the form of fevered, barely coherent rants about governmental slaughter, Russian collusion, and how nuclear bombs turn people into “human Jell-O.” Ladies and gentlemen, our hero!
The idea here, I guess, is that protecting American interests is an ugly job, and there are no bonus points for doing it politely. You want ruthless, dogged guys like Jimmy Silva out there defending our country because the people who want to harm us are ruthless and dogged too. I’m not sure you want to watch guys like Jimmy Silva in a movie, though. As his teammates would agree, he’s an unpleasant (possibly sociopathic) guy to be around. In the middle of a fight for his life, his boss (John Malkovich, who has surely never been hired for a role that required less of his gifts) actually has to beg him to stop monologuing.
Silva’s latest mission involves ferrying an important informant (Uwais) out of a made-up Asian country. The informant knows the location of some stolen radioactive powder, but he will only hand over the intel after Silva gets him on a plane to the U.S. The country’s corrupt government would prefer he not leave, which makes the 22-mile trek to the airport especially dangerous — even with the weapons and technology of “Overwatch,” a secret branch of the CIA with seemingly limitless discretion and zero oversight, at Jimmy’s disposal.
Sticking Uwais at the center of a massive conspiracy is a perfect spot for him, and there are several clever setups for action sequences, including one where he’s handcuffed to a hospital bed when a group of assassins dressed as doctors try to take him out. All of these sequences, though, are so poorly edited that it’s impossible to follow what is happening. Mile 22’s director Peter Berg is an experienced action director and he’s never made anything as rough or ugly as this before. That suggests this was a deliberate aesthetic choice rather than an error. It’s conceivable Berg wanted to make an action movie that mirrored Jimmy Silva’s fractured, frenetic mind. If so, he put an idea ahead of visual coherence, not to mention taking full advantage of Uwais’ skills.
Mile 22 is a classic late August release, with talented people in a story that made sense in concept but got lost somewhere along the way in execution. Despite Wahlberg giving what essentially amounts to a feature-length speech about unknown knowns and the horrors of modern warfare, there’s no sense of psychological depth to any of the characters; at 90 minutes flat, there’s no time for that. But there’s also not enough legitimate thrills to qualify Mile 22 as a lean and mean B-movie. The fights and shootouts are too choppy to be clear and too bloody to be fun. It’s basically an over-caffeinated lecture about geopolitics with frequent cutaways to grisly murders. It didn’t necessarily need a page one rewrite, but a better and less hectic edit could have done wonders.