If Peter Berg was more interested in emulating Michael Mann than Michael Bay, Mile 22 might be something. An international thriller based around getting a high-value asset from point A to point B through extremely hostile territory within a very narrow window should be exciting from beginning to end, a claustrophobic story in the open air where the moments between the action sequences are just as tense as the fights and shootouts. Instead, what we get is a jumbled, unfocused, visual mess that wastes its potential and is still somehow overlong at only 94 minutes.
The story follows a special ops team led by James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) that is tasked with transporting a defector, the mysterious Li Noor (Iko Uwais), to safety as his former (unnamed) nation’s intelligence agency spares no expense or bullet trying to take him down. Noor’s bargaining chip is that he has a self-destructing disc containing the location of several missing chemical weapons caches, and only he knows the password—and that he has a knack for making it out of no-win situations alive. His demand for this code is safe passage and asylum in the US. Silva and his team (featuring Ronda Rousey and Lauren Cohan) have to escort him 22 miles to the extraction point, where a military plane will wait for exactly 10 minutes after landing. If they fail, everyone dies and the weapons go to the highest bidder.
It’s a solid premise (if reminiscent of 16 Blocks) that’s taken down by—well, everything about the movie. First, and most disappointing, is a failure to make anything close to spatial sense in a film where the set pieces are specifically designed around the use of space: a safe house that’s been compromised, an apartment complex filled with danger at every turn, and navigating tight city streets where every motorcyclist may be armed. Neither the camera nor the editing allow you to see what’s actually happening before cutting to three different angles of the same event—a telltale sign that the editing was used to cover up either bad action choreography or bad cinematography. Even the gunplay is bad, and one shootout in particular feels like they tried to recreate the heist from Heat but only had one afternoon to film.
You may recognize Iko Uwais from The Raid films, where his skill as a physical performer first caught the world’s attention. Watching him take down a room full of baddies should be a delight, but the editing doesn’t even let you see where the punches land. Berg puts him back in an apartment complex and wastes the potential for homage with the inability to properly direct martial arts.
The incoherent action fails to hold it all together, leaving the story to die on the vine. Wahlberg’s rapid-fire delivery is meant to amplify some undiagnosed psychological condition, but the result is just Silva coming off as an insufferable prat who you really don’t want to spend 90 minutes with. Rousey, a professional fighter, is given a gun and lots of dialogue, but strangely does not fight. Cohan brings a lot to her character and could have been the saving grace had the story centered more on her character than Wahlberg’s. John Malkovich, one of the great go-big-or-go-home actors of our time, is left to do nothing but remotely feed intel to Wahlberg while wearing the worst hairpiece on a great performer since Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen. Furthermore, the omission of where exactly this takes place beyond “Southeast Asia”—not even a fictional country is named—comes off as cowardly and noncommittal.
The ending is clearly attempting to set up a franchise. Don’t let them. Skip it.
R, 94minutes; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
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