Mile 22 (2018)
Option 1: Diplomacy. Option 2: Military. Meet Option 3
After having collaborated in the Afghanistan war drama Lone Survivor (2013), the historical oil-rig disaster Deepwater Horizon (2016), and the excellent Patriots Day (2016), a dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, it’s no surprise that the Bergs — filmmaker Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg — have gained the tag ‘Hollywood’s most patriotic duo.’ Their fourth team up, though, sees the pair veer away from real-life tragedies/ accounts, Mile 22 a fictional, relentlessly paced espionage action thriller, one that’s cut from the same cloth as Bruce Willis’ 16 Blocks (2006). Catering to fans of Bayhem brutality and revved-up masculinity, the movie shadows an elite paramilitary team of agents who embark on an important mission to escort a high-level informant from an American Embassy in Southeast Asia to an airfield for extraction, via a 22-mile-long route.
Written by newcomer Lea Carpenter and television scribe Graham Roland, Mile 22 trails trained killer James ‘Jimmy’ Silva (Mark Wahlberg), a child prodigy with severe anger management issues, who heads a tough-as-nails strike team, code-named Overwatch. We meet the squad as they’re preparing to infiltrate a Russian safe house in a suburban cul-de-sac, where they’re assigned with locating and destroying shipments of the toxic substance cesium before it’s weaponized. Two of Jimmy’s colleagues, Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and William Douglas (Carlo Alban), are disguised as a married couple that appears to be lost, door knocking for directions. Surveying the area (via drones) is an eye-in-the-sky team dubbed ‘Mother,’ headed by John Malkovich’s buzzcut sporting honcho James Bishop, who calls his agents Child 1, 2, 3, etc. As expected, things don’t exactly go according to plan, the whole thing resulting in unnecessary casualties, a big explosion, and some lost cesium.
Some months down the line, in Indocarr City (a fictional Indonesian metropolis), police officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais) surrenders himself over to the U.S. embassy with a disc that he claims contains the information Overwatch needs to find the missing cesium, in turn preventing several would-be catastrophic terrorist attacks. Li, however, agrees to give them the code that unlocks the disc, but only if he’s escorted out of the country and granted asylum in the United States. Leading the extraction, Jimmy plans a particular 22-mile-long road out of the city, to an airplane that’s ready to transport ‘the package’ to safety, with the corrupt local government standing in their way, these powerful criminals doing everything they can to stop the crew from getting their source to the airstrip. Now, facing a battalion of faceless goons (armed with machine guns and rocket launchers), ultra-badass Jimmy gears up for the fight of his life, blasting his way across the volatile city while trying to figure out who Li is and why everyone wants him dead. On top of all this, we get snippets of goings-on aboard a hovering plane, where a Russian agent, Vera (Natasha Goubskaya), is monitoring Li’s every move, tracking him for her own personal reasons.
Teetering between too simple and overly contrived, Mile 22 can be somewhat hard to follow, so much so that filmmakers feel the need to have Malkovich’s character literally recap everything that’s happened at around the midway mark — you know, just to clarify things for those feeling a tad confused. Characterization is also in short supply. Sure, we get some stuff about Cohan’s Alice, who’s in the midst of a nasty separation, communicating with her idiotic husband Lucas (a cameo by Peter Berg) over a divorce app called Family Wizard, which shuts down when someone swears, but other than that, there’s really very little. Thankfully, the action is fast, ferocious and bloodthirsty, even if some of the shaky-cam shots and frantic editing by Melissa Lawson Cheung, Last Man Club (2016), and Colby Parker Jr., Deepwater Horizon (2016) — who cut between angst-fueled actors, fuzzy surveillance cameras and satellite imagery — can get a tad frustrating. All of the gung-ho madness and bloody carnage is intercut with shots of Wahlberg talking to some higher-ups in a conference room during a post-mission debriefing — this wrap-around framing device not really adding much to the overall story.
Although Marky Mark chews scenery as motor-mouth operative Jimmy, who basically barks rapid-fire orders at his co-workers and snaps a rubber band on his wrist whenever he gets angry, the real star of Mile 22 is Iko Uwais, the Indonesian action man best known for his kickass work in Gareth Evans’ The Raid series. Doing a lot of his own fight choreography, Mile 22 gives Uwais a chance to showcase his Silat fighting skills to U.S. audiences, the highlights a skirmish in a run-down apartment block and a cutthroat brawl against a couple of phony practitioners who try to assassinate Li while he’s handcuffed to a hospital bed. Sadly, the schizophrenic camerawork and over-kill visuals do somewhat of a disservice to Uwais’ first-rate martial arts, as the quick cuts make it hard for audiences to fully appreciate what he’s capable of. Irrespective, there’s still a lot to enjoy here — a savage scene that sees Uwais use a broken car window to take out a baddie will go down as one of the year’s most wince-inducing moments.
Support players are well cast, mainly Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead (2010), and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, The Expendables 3 (2014), who hold their own in this di*k-swinging boys’ club, the ladies portrayed as being just as tough (and as deadly) as the men they work with. Another standout is Sam Medina, Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018), who portrays chief antagonist Axel, the right-hand man to Indocarr’s deputy foreign minister, Medina’s villainous officer tasked with preventing Overwatch from carrying out their assignment. John Malkovich, who previously appeared in Berg’s Deepwater Horizon (2016), also makes an impression as Overwatch shot caller Bishop, who works with a five-person crew, known only by chess piece codenames — Rook, King, Queen, Knight, and Pawn — and operates from a remote command center that’s decorated with bobblehead dolls of U.S. Presidents, both past and present — think Donald Trump placed beside Barack Obama.
A turbocharged actioner for those who enjoy this brand of macho entertainment, Mile 22 thankfully manages to stick the landing, the movie concluding with a surprising twist that had me stupefied, filmmaker Berg laying the groundwork for a potential sequel. Whether a follow-up ever eventuates, however, is another issue entirely. Either way, clocking in at a brisk 94 minutes (the Burgs’ shortest collaboration to date), Mile 22 is refreshingly sharp and concise, the type of thing that’s bound to go down well with a pizza and a couple of drinks on a Friday night.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie