Director Peter Berg has never felt the need to hide his right-leaning political posturing in his movies, smuggling an “America First” agenda into the rampant machismo that characterizes films like Lone Survivor and Patriot’s Day. In that capacity, it makes perfect sense why Mark Wahlberg, former underwear model and total A-list douchenozzle, has become his muse and spirit animal – the man is a walking, talking knucklehead who in the public sphere embodies the ideals of shoot first and ask questions later, often making blustery claims about love of country and God above all else, spinning himself into this or that controversy for not being able to keep his trap shut.
In the abominable Mile 22, Berg reveals a film that’s little more than a false flag for government overreach. It’s both propagandist and an ugly display of violence for violence’s sake. Worse yet, it’s simply a bad action movie. Stuffed to the gills with blustery nationalist dog-whistling nonsense, the script from first-timer Lea Carpenter is filled with faux-badass babble, monologuing doctrine about security and risk and sacrifice and love of country that you’d need an Alex Jonsian Rosetta Stone to dechiper what in the hell it’s all actually supposed to mean. Berg can barely put an action scene on the screen without splicing in Wahlberg’s unbearable James Silva delivering a head-scratching screed about balance and world order and blah-blah-fucking-blah.
Silva represents every bad impulse Wahlberg has as an actor and embodying the psychopathic elite tactician, Wahlberg drowns. He’s quite simply unwatchable in the role; yelling, preaching, and lecturing at anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. As a de-facto team leader of a top-secret tactical command unit known as Overwatch, Silva has both a license to kill and a desire to do so. Overwatch is made up of Silva, Alice (Lauren Cohan, who is solid enough in her underwritten role), Sam (MMA princess Ronda Rousey, almost decent) and William (Carlo Alban, meh) and the film has no idea how to create a shred of camaraderie between its ragtag team of super-killers.
If the Fast and Furious crew is all about family and the deep bonds that bind, Mile 22 is its antithesis. Firstly, it’s no fun. More importantly, these characters are nothing but trigger-happy guns for hire. They have no personality traits, make no choices, do nothing of interest. They are anti-characters defined just as much by the guns they wield than the words they say. There is nothing teetering these individuals together save a need to accomplish the mission, all which serves to make their shoot-outs feel hollow and without stakes. It doesn’t help that there is basically no story – special unit must escort asset to safe zone – and that the story that is there is patched together with bad action-movie instincts and Wahlberg’s wholly-punchable face.
The should-be down and dirty, triple-crossing thriller feels like a C-level understudy of Aaron Sorkin decided to write a Pro-America rant of an actioner, one that hates brown people, loves Budweiser, and thinks a bullet to the face is appropriate justice in just about any situation. From early on, the movie adopts an incessantly talky, didactic approach to its storytelling that feels not unlike being shouted at by a drunk grandpa over an increasingly awkward family dinner. Even ignoring all the political hooey and alpha-male bluster, Mile 22 fails spectacularly as an action movie because it clips its greatest asset, co-star and fight choreographer Iko Uwasi (The Raid), in awe-inducing fashion. The editing from Melissa Lawson Cheung and Colby Parker Jr. is among the worst I’ve seen in a modern action movie, with shots often lingering less than a second before hurriedly shifting to what’s next.
What’s the point of hiring one of the world’s finest fight choreographer (Uwais) if you’re going to clip his action scenes to all hell? The editing is pure seizuremania, the cuts so frequent and so unwieldy that what is actually happening can be difficult to decipher in any given moment. What could have been punchy close-quarters fisticuffs becomes a scrabble of arms, legs, and muzzle flashes. There are a few bone-crunching punch-outs that give the movie a shot of adrenaline but even then, one can’t stop to think how they would have worked infinitely better as long, sustained takes, which we know full well Uwais is capable of staging.
Uwais, who plays a highly-skilled police officer with key information regarding atomic weaponry, is the movie’s easy highlight even though character-wise, he’s just another cog in the wheel of this tremendously lame storytelling. Thankfully, there are moments where his physical wizardry makes one forget the nightmare onscreen – particularly a hospital scene staged between honest-to-God martial artists – but they are few and far between.
In some horribly misguided attempt to set up an Overwatch franchise, Mile 22 ends up being really only half a movie, with major stones left unturned, key character’s fates left unknown and the main thrust of the movie left completely unresolved. When the credits rolled, the row of people unfortunate enough to have watched this exploded in a riot of WTF? At 95 minutes, Mile 22 feels like an exacerbated crew quitting mid-movie and I totally understand why they might do is. The thing is an unmitigated disaster of misguided patriotism and nihilistic boom-boom that’s seemingly working against itself at every opportunity. It’s a field guide for making awful action cinema. Epic fail.
CONCLUSION: ‘Mile 22’ is a milestone for tone-deaf propaganda action cinema, haphazardly aggrandizing violence and “America first” policies in this shrieky MAGA hat of a movie. Mark Wahlberg is insufferable in the lead role and even Iko Uwais’ impressive fight choreography is choppily edited into ravaged smithereens. It’s the worst movie I’ve seen in 2018.