Mile 22 isn't lacking when it comes to hard-hitting action, but is undone by its confused narrative and over-rushed attempt at franchise-building.
Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg reunite yet again for the action-thriller Mile 22, but fourth time ends up not being the charm for the actor-director pairing. The duo previously worked together on a trilogy of docudrama-thrillers focusing on a Navy SEAL mission gone wrong (Lone Survivor), the BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion/spill (Deepwater Horizon), and the Boston Marathon Bombing (Patriots Day). While each of these fact-based films have clear through lines and purposes, Mile 22 is much choppier and suffers from its attempt to serve as the glorified pilot for a series of movies (including, a Mile 22 sequel that's already being written). Mile 22 isn't lacking when it comes to hard-hitting action, but is undone by its confused narrative and over-rushed attempt at franchise-building.
Wahlberg stars in Mile 22 as James Silva, a high-functioning but antisocial individual who was recognized by the U.S. government as being a prodigy at a young age and ultimately recruited to work for the CIA's most elite secret task force: Overwatch. While stationed in Indonesia, Silva and his fellow Overwatch members - including, Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey) - are approached by Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a native police officer who claims to have information regarding a missing chemical substance that could be used to make highly destructive and radioactive dirty bombs. Noor then demands that he be flown out of the country to safety in the U.S., before he reveals his hand.
It soon becomes apparent that whatever information Noor is holding onto, it's important enough that the local government is willing to have him killed, in order to prevent it from being leaked. With the details locked away in an un-hackable flash drive that will degrade in eight hours and Noor being the only one who knows the password to access it, Silva and the rest of the Overwatch squad - led by their boss (John Malkovich), who is code named "Mother" - thus assemble, in order to transport Noor to an extraction point located 22 miles from his current position at the Indonesian U.S. embassy. But can they get there in one piece?
Mile 22 was originally presented as being a standalone action-thriller starring Wahlberg, Uwais, and Rousey - based on a script by Graham Roland (creator of Amazon's upcoming Jack Ryan series) - back when it was first announced in 2015. However, two years later, Wahlberg, Berg, and STX revealed that it had since been redesigned to serve as the first installment in a trilogy, with relative newcomer Lea Carpenter now credited for writing the screenplay (from a story co-credited to Roland). Unfortunately, the final movie result plays out more as a slapdash "origin story" for James Silva than a compelling introduction to the character and his world. Similarly, there are a number of supporting players and subplots here that feel like either their roles were reduced from an earlier script draft or they were added to lay the groundwork for a Mile 22 franchise, despite being mostly irrelevant to this movie. The same goes for a (mostly pointless) narrative framing device that involves Silva being debriefed by a mysterious superior officer.
While Mile 22 touches upon certain recurring themes from Berg's previous films (see: heroism and sacrifice in the line of duty), the movie's stabs at political commentary and relevance are as jumbled as its narrative. Certain elements (like a plot thread involving the Russian government) feel as though they were shoehorned in here in order to make the movie feel more timely, but they inadvertently wind up muddying its subtext instead. Mile 22 also (literally) looks as rough around the edges as its story feels. Berg uses the same guerrilla filmmaking techniques here as he has on his previous features (including, heavy use of security camera footage a la Patriots Day), but there's less method to his approach, this time around. The director and his crew - which includes his trusty camera operator-turned cinematographer Jacques Jouffret and frequent editors Melissa Lawson Cheung and Colby Parker Jr. - in turn deliver action sequences here that feel chaotic, but not as nerve-wracking or intense to watch as intended.
At the center of this storm is Wahlberg as Silva, a "realistic" superhero (think Ben Affleck in The Accountant) who can lead the Mile 22 franchise. Silva comes off as being a cross between Wahlberg's foul-mouthed sergeant from The Departed and a quasi-sociopathic genius in the vein of Dr. Gregory House (from House M.D.), but lacks the sharp wit and glimpses of a richer humanity beneath the hardened exterior that makes those characters engaging. It doesn't help that Silva and the other characters here are largely developed through ham-fisted dialogue, rather than their behavior. Cohan as Alice is fleshed out the most among the supporting players in Mile 22, but even her storyline (which involves a young daughter, as well as an ornery ex-husband portrayed by Berg himself) struggles to leave much of an emotional impact.
On the other hand, Cohan's experience killing zombies on The Walking Dead serves her well and she thrives while playing the action hero during Mile 22's close-quarter combat scenes and shoot-outs. While Rousey makes for an equally convincing action star here (as she has in movies past), Uwais is easily the scene-stealer in the film. The actor/martial artist made a real name for himself with his bone-crunching brawls from The Raid movies and further showcases his expertise as both a stuntman and fight choreographer with his efforts on Mile 22. Uwais' Li Noor is also intriguing when it comes to the mystery around his true motivation - enough so that, in a number of ways, he's more interesting than Silva as a character.
In the end, Mile 22 feels like it could have been a solid Bourne-esque thriller, had it not been clumsily reformatted to launch a Mark Wahlberg franchise. While some aspects still work, on the whole the film is a bit of a mess and a pretty noticeable step down in quality from Wahlberg and Berg's previous true story-inspired collaborations together. Mile 22 is better-made and acted than other action movies that have been "dumped" in mid-to-late August in the past (admittedly, not a high bar to clear), but it's probably best saved for a future home rental, for those interested in checking it out. As for those Mile 22 multimedia IP plans: the box office will have the final say on that matter.
Mile 22 is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 95 minutes long and is rated R for strong violence and language throughout.
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- Mile 22 (2018) release date: Aug 17, 2018