Marking the fourth—and perhaps most bizarre—collaboration between actor Mark Wahlberg and director (and occasional actor) Peter Berg, Mile 22 seems like a standard-issue action piece, with Wahlberg’s CIA operative James Silva and his team attempting to protect and extract an asset from a Southeast Asian country with its government doing everything it can to stop that from happening. At a tightly paced 90 minutes plus credits, the thing moves like a tornado, mowing down vehicles and people like they don’t even exist.
But as penned by Lea Carpenter, the film features strange, almost throwaway commentary (mostly from Wahlberg) about the nature of the world of espionage specifically and global politics generally. Perhaps because this is Wahlberg’s and Berg’s first film together that isn’t based on true events (like Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day all were), the filmmakers try to inject as much real-world references as they possibly can in a series of rapid-fire monologues that would make even David Mamet say, “Whoa, slow your roll, Marky Mark.”
As an action film, Mile 22 works pretty well, primarily due to the presence of Iko Uwais (from The Raid movies and Beyond Skyline, who also does some of the film’s fight choreography) as Li Noor, the aforementioned asset, a local police officer with intelligence that he’s keeping to himself until he’s given exile by the Americans. Uwais is so gifted as a fighter, especially in close quarters, that it feels like the film is being sped up during those moments; but he’s also a subtle, strong actor who seems like the wrong guy to play someone who needs protecting.
Other members of Silva’s team include those played by Lauren Cohan (from “Walking Dead”) and professional fighter/wrestler Ronda Rousey, who continues to improve as an actor and even gets to throw a punch or two during the course of the story. A couple of Steppenwolf Theatre Company veterans are on hand as well to play the team’s CIA bosses. John Malkovich plays Bishop, who runs and monitors the team, while Terry Kinney seems high enough up on the food chain to yell at Silva when supposedly good intelligence turns out to be crap. Of the two, Malkovich seems to be having the most fun, and his clearly fake hair certainly made me chuckle a time or two.
There are moments in Mile 22 that feel 100 percent believable as far as the way certain types of military-style operations might be run. But tossing in unnecessary subplots about Cohan’s dickhead ex-husband (played by the director, fittingly) or the strangle wraparound element that is used as a framing device for the main story, seems superfluous and doesn’t really add anything to a film that is at its finest when it sticks to the business at hand.
As strange as it was to hear Wahlberg waxing poetic about Russian collusion or reminding us that today’s front-line warriors in the fight against modern terrorists don’t wear uniforms, Silva’s unhinged nature grew on me, if only because the actor so rarely plays characters who are as reckless as they are gifted thinkers (something we’re told in the early minutes of the movie; he can even solve all-white jigsaw puzzles, so he must be smart).
The closing minutes feature a twist that is impossible to predict, and I’m not even convinced it makes total sense after the story we’ve just witnessed. But what it does do is give Wahlberg and Berg a chance to make a follow-up film; Silva has some franchise potential. He’s more inherently ruthless than Bond or Bourne and certainly knows how to take a beating or a grenade to the face or whatever else those nasty bad guys have in store.
I’m not sure the film is going to do well enough on opening weekend to warrant further adventures, but I wouldn’t cringe at the idea either, especially if Iko Uwais is involved again. A little nutty, but enjoyable at a certain frequency.
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