Back in 2013, before there was American Sniper, everyone’s favorite new patriotic, kick-ass American movie, was a little film about a true Navy SEAL operation set in Afghanistan called Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Peter Berg. Though not a monstrous success, it held its own fairly well enough during the Holiday season for the two to jump at the chance to collaborate once again with each other. 2016 saw their return not only with true-story disaster film on the BP oil spill Deepwater Horizon, but also the true-story crime-drama about the Boston Marathon bombings Patriots Day. And they were all fairly good despite their lack of subtlety or narrative tact, largely due to Berg’s sure hand being a good match for Wahlberg’s enthusiasm and verve. Though the follow-ups weren’t nearly the commercial successes their first collaboration was, neither that nor a true story to go off has stopped the two of them from making a fourth film together, with Mile 22 now hitting theaters to cap off the summer movie season. And it would seem their string of good luck has run out here, as they deliver their most undercooked venture yet. Not only is it unnecessarily short, seemingly missing somewhere in the range of ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the film, but also is it rather perfunctory and dispassionate. It feels like screenwriter Lea Carpenter started with the central premise and built the rest around that but forgot to add any kind of succulence to it. Though the editing is pretty poor all around so that might’ve had something to do with it.
In Mile 22, a special forces team known as Overwatch attempts to track down a highly volatile substance known as cesium, which when weaponized could kill thousands of people. Indonesian police officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais) has information on the cesium, and plans to give it to Overwatch in exchange for American asylum. Overwatch leader James Bishop (John Malkovich) tasks his team, including James Silva (Mark Wahlberg), Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), with escorting Noor twenty-two miles through the city to an airstrip where he will be immediately absconded to America. However, Overwatch isn’t the only one with stake in the game, as the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency will do whatever it takes to keep Noor in the country. Suddenly Overwatch find themselves in a long crawl for survival, fighting their way through the city, as their past exploits have more sway on the proceedings than they realize.
So for those of you seeing this for Marky Mark Wahlberg – and Peter Berg, maybe, if you liked their other movies – you should know that this’ll be suitable for you in that department. One of the appeals for them as a team comes from Wahlberg’s innate ability to embody whatever jingoistic themes are inherent in the finished product. Such is particularly the case with a film like Patriots Day, whereby the message is so forcefully spoon-fed to the audience, but because Wahlberg is so earnest in delivering those kind of lines, it somehow works. Or is at least passable instead of saccharine. There’s not really any of that here, Mile 22 certainly a film to come out of the Trump administration, and more attentive with delivering action sequences than any kind of meaningful story. So, yeah, if you like to watch Marky Mark wave a gun around, you won’t be disappointed. But lost here in relation to his previous collaborations with Berg is that true-to-life wondrous element elevating the story when the screenplay falters when it relies on too many tropes. Here, however, there’s nothing to protect its fictional characters from projecting themselves in two dimensions only, as whatever developments arise in regard to them feel disingenuous and ancillary. I’m not saying Mile 22 needed an American flag waving in the background as a thematic punctuation – we’ve had enough Michael Bay films doing that to last a lifetime – but the approach the film takes is incongruous with Berg’s talents, especially when working with Wahlberg.
I know there’s a lot of people out there with the disposition that all these big blockbuster movies are far too long, clocking in at over two hours, but when a production of this magnitude only gives ninety-four to tell its story, something is wrong. In my opinion, the only two genres that can get away with that short a runtime film in and film out are animated movies and horror movies. Everything else should be over one-hundred minutes, if not closer to a hundred-and-ten. And though Mile 22 has the right tempo early on, its runtime really hurts it when the viewer suddenly realizes the movie is ending. Seriously, I never realized I had already watched the climax until the credits were rolling. Apparently, the film wanted to leave the audience with a kind of gut-punch ending, pulling off its magic trick and then getting out as quickly as possible, somewhat in the same vein as The Usual Suspects or Buried. And though there’s nothing wrong with an obligatory twist – other than being obligatory – I couldn’t help but feel there was a final action sequence removed from the end of the film following said gut punch. In anything one writes, there’s a certain code of storytelling each narrative needs to follow, and usually that involves at least some form of catharsis. Unfortunately, Mile 22 is denied any kind of catharsis – even on an action standpoint – as it wrongly decides to wrap things up without giving Marky Mark one last hurrah to send the folks home happy.
As far as the action sequences themselves are concerned – which is the only reason people are going to see this in the first place – I’d say they’re fairly decent. Peter Berg is too good a technical director to really deliver a poorly handled action or thriller flick. And though one would expect it to come from Wahlberg, the real action star here is Uwais, whom most audiences around the world will know from The Raid and The Raid 2. Like any good martial artist, he’s thoroughly dependable to display the heights of human potential and athleticism, but he’s largely let down by the sloppy editing performed here. Seriously, there’s so many cuts every time the guy picks up a blunt instrument, you’d think you were watching Liam Neeson climb a fence in Taken 3. In fact, it’s so choppy and disorienting, that whole sequences make little to no sense to the point that any suspension of disbelief done by the viewer is subsequently retracted. I’m sure Peter Berg went out and made a suitably fine action-thriller, but it’s nowhere to be found here.
In short, Mile 22 is a slapdash, messy piece of an action film that doesn’t meet the potential and expectations of anyone involved. It’s good to see the likes of Cohan here, making the leap to to big-budget pictures after more than proving herself on The Walking Dead, even if she’s mostly wasted; and hey, they were even able to make Malkovich give a sh*t enough to show up – crew cut and all – after working with Berg on 2016’s Deepwater Horizon. Still, the movie was butchered for the most part in the editing room, and the story isn’t nearly compelling enough to make it memorable whatsoever.
Final Score: 3/10