5 out of 10
Mark Wahlberg as James Silva
Directed by Peter Berg
Mile 22 Review:
For all its wham-bam action film kinetics – frequent and fun as they are – Mile 22 is a nothing-burger of a film, all build up and no pay off. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Lucy’s last-minute football purloining, sending its audience into the air like Charlie Brown, cursing themselves for believing that – for just a moment – things were going to turn out differently.
A secret team of advanced US operatives – lead by perpetually angry super genius James Silva (Wahlberg) – have been scrambling around the world looking for missing canisters of cesium: perfect fuel for dirty bombs for terrorists. When a Special Forces officer (Uwais) in a Southeast Asia country announces he knows where they are it’s up to Silva and his team to get him to safety as quickly as possible. That means traveling across 22 miles of city terrain filled with bullets, bombs, assassins, betrayal and possibly more danger than even Silva can handle.
What they want more than that no man can say. There are some small feints towards rich inner lives for the many, many, many characters Mile 22 throws our way but not much more. Silva is impatient with how slow everyone else is and deals with it by snapping a rubber band on his wrist. His number two, Alice (Cohan), is in the middle of an ugly divorce. His number three (Rousey) is thinking about getting into goat farming, the local spy chief (Kinney) is stressed and needs a nap. It’s the kind of manic character interaction director Berg (Patriots Day) has been so adroit at exploiting in his other set-piece-o-ramas. While his end goal is bombastic explosions and roiling cameras, just enough life is given to the characters to fill the space between action beats and sort of care what happens to them (or at least what they are doing at any moment).
And for a while it seems like Mile 22 will pull it off, too. When Silva and his team aren’t shooting up the streets of Indocarr City (capital of some unknown, unnamed Southeast Asia country) they’re providing just enough jokes and barbs to keep everyone engaged, even if Wahlberg is forced to speak a mile-a-minute in a continuous monologue which frequently reduces to gibberish. This is perfectly fine in a simple A-to-B plot which is going to be covering a small area of ground in a short period of time, but Lea Carpenter and Graham Roland’s script doesn’t want to do that even though that is exactly what the film sets out to do. Instead it flashes forwards and backwards, from a pair of Russian generals speaking portentously in a surveillance plane to Silva’s post mission debriefing speaking portentously about what went wrong on this simple mission. There’s a desire to fill Mile 22 with structural complexity and paranoia it not only does not need but which is actively antithetical to its mission. This is not a film which benefits from Resnais-like discursions into past and future and the breaking apart of narrative.
It’s hard to ignore the feeling this is primarily to give Wahlberg something to do in his own film. The interpersonal drama has all been handed to Cohan as she tries to deal with the stress of her ex and her asset messing with her mind without losing the plot, and the action beats have all been handed to said asset, The Raid’s Uwais, who takes over the film’s set pieces with a leap and a bound and brings them to startling life. Most of the film’s best moments are his and everyone is left just watching.
Pointless action movie with some good beats is hardly the worst criticism light entertainment ever received – a lot of the time it’s just the cure for what ails you and Mile 22 could have been a decent version of one of those but for its obsession with its flashbacks and build up to some sort of giant reveal which turns out to be … not a reveal. It’s a shameless bit of sequel baiting which reminds strongly of Tony Gilroy’s abortive Bourne Legacy, Mile 22 spends more than half its running time building to a fantastic climax which is left off screen with more to come if we make it to Mile 23. It deflates whatever goodwill there may have been stands the viewer with nothing to hold onto. Sequel baiting only works if enough goodwill has been engendered ahead of time and there is nothing in Mile 22 attempting that.
A pointless action movie can get away with a lot but the one thing it must never do is remind us how pointless it is. Mile 22 spray paints it in bright red letters across its own face.