The first 20 minutes of Mile 22 has a promising setup. The cold open is an efficient and tight action sequence, in which James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his skeleton crew of ghost mercenaries breach the isolated home of bomb-building terrorists. It is not the most elegantly-staged of set pieces, but it does the job in relating to us the characters that we will be following for the next 90 minutes.
Following the cold open, we move to an undefined East Asian country, where Silva and his team are working on an errant police officer, Li Noor (Iko Uwais). Li arrives at the U.S. embassy with an encrypted hard drive. Once detained, the hard drive immediately begins deconstructing itself, a ticking clock that gives Silva a limited time before the pertinent information contained within is destroyed. (The information is in relation to some shipments of cesium, but this ultimately is not important to the plot of the film).
It is not important to the plot, because this plot is thrown into a chaotic stream of bullets once Li Noor introduces his ultimatum. He wants a safe passage out of the country in exchange for the information on the hard disk. Silva accepts, and begins a high speed pursuit across this vaguely-defined country.
None of the plotting is important, even if the plotting in the first 20 minutes at least presents the promise of a smartly-constructed action thriller. What is important to Wahlberg and director Peter Berg (this is their fourth and least successful collaboration to date) is not the plot, but the sheer amount of violence.
This isn’t to say that violence is a problematic element when discussing the crime thriller, but with Mile 22 violence is used with only the slightest of narrative motivation. There is a character who doesn’t want Li Noor to escape the country. As such, there is a constant onslaught of bullets and explosions that cause impediment to Silva’s journey.
The film sets up characters in the first act. Which is to say, the film pretends to try in the first act. These characters mean little once the ultimatum is executed. Like a video game, our characters are given health meters that rapidly deplete as necessary in order to create what one might call tension. With an apathetic shrug, Berg asks us to care about these characters as they bleed out or shoot mercilessly at a barrage of faceless villains, as if a shrinking blood pressure meter is enough for us to feel sympathy.
Meanwhile, the film barrels forward as if the end game of the plot is something the audience is relishing. But what in the script has illustrated for us a reason to care about Silva’s efforts to get Li to a chopper? Whatever the reason is, I couldn’t find it.
Mile 22 is a tired, trigger-happy action film that packs in the bloodshed as if it will help us forget about the lack of narrative. After a short act lazily attempting to set up stakes, the film rapidly devolves to a place of mayhem. It is not a cinematic mayhem, however, but an ugly display of explosions and gunfire caught in tight, shaky closeup. We watch as characters bleed and suffer, for the sake of seemingly nothing more than Mark Wahlberg’s acting career.
All of this leads to a twist that no one could care enough about to see coming. The only positive outcome from this slipshod turn, and indeed the movie as a whole, is the inconceivable invocation of the biggest Mark Wahlberg meme of all time. But we’re not laughing with the movie when it asks to Wahlberg: “say hi to your mother for me.” We’re laughing in bewilderment.
Wahlberg and Berg have made a good pair, depicting heroism in its most red-blooded vein. None of their collaborations are subtle, but they all serve a narrow cinematic purpose in that they rise to some degree of reverence for what it means to be patriotic in today’s society.
With Mile 22, it is difficult to understand what the two were thinking. Lacking still is the subtlety, but missing also is the blind heroism that gave their other films, if little else, energy. Instead, we are given a nihilistic onslaught of grizzled violence that is neither justified nor dignified by the story that accompanies it.
In short, it is a grimy film with little to say for itself.
Mile 22: D+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)