Mile 22 was practically tailor made for me. I’ve been a vocal fan of Peter Berg’s brand of mayhem, finding the likes of Deepwater Horizon or Battleship extraordinary works that viscerally thrill with a welcome economy. His latest muse, Mark Wahlberg, brings a particular brand of preposterousness I find engaging. Add in some scene chewing by John Malkovich and an English debut by Iko Uwais (from the magnificent Raid films), all wrapped in a tale of espionage and counter terrorism, and I’m hooked right from the start.
It’s thus all the more gutting that Berg’s film is a flop, a mess of poorly executed action sequences marred by whip-pans and motion blur masking the very ingredients that promised to make this an exceptional little thrill ride. The shots of Uwais are particularly unconscionable, taking one of the greatest on-screen fighters in the last several decades and forcing the camera practically up his nostrils, with smeary visuals and rapid cutting that look more like a banal video game than the work of an epic martial artist.
The storyline is appropriately convoluted, essentially tracing an “impossible missions force” offshoot of the American government that’s intent on weeding out sleeper cells and the like. We’re back to the Russians being the bad guys, which is a nice respite from those decades obsessed with the Middle East and echoes chilly Cold War spy flicks. When the action goes to an unnamed, generic Asian country (presumably to prevent offense cast at the shitshow that is contemporary Indonesian politics), we’re led into a mess of car chases, foot chases, motorcycle chases – basically, a lot of running in various forms.
Wahlberg’s character is highly OCD, constantly flicking a wristband that evokes Lance Armstrong, which is another layer of problematic metatextuality. The plot has a MacGuffin as the characters need to get a “package” the titular distance before unlocking a ticking timebomb of information, but what’s supposed to be a sense of urgency instead leaves me questioning whether better logistical choices could have been made. (Helicopter, anyone?)
The movie attempts to ground these characters into reality with notions that, while they’re off saving the world, they have to make sacrifices in the form of absentee child rearing. Time after time, procedures are abandoned for what the film sets up as trivial reasons, and many good people die trying to help out colleagues even though their own narcissism would not allow for similar reciprocal sacrifice. Frustratingly, we’re left with a total lack of catharsis when the 22 miles are crossed, particularly given the clunky-as-hell addendum that teases at a sequel.
Berg’s Mile 22 is a bust, a messy bit of mayhem that could have and should have been amazing fun. Instead, this low-rent Mission: Impossible offers a wasted cast, a storyline that meanders, and a series of action set-pieces so poorly shot that they’re risible. This is one of the most disappointing films of the year and can’t live up to even moderate expectations for a fun, action-packed time at the cinema.