Mile 22 is the fourth pairing of Mark Wahlberg and directing buddy Peter Berg, one that has them trying new things, most of which don't work.
The two are known for what we might call their Guys Who Know How To Do Their Jobs movies – featuring Wahlberg as a competent and tough Army Ranger (Lone Survivor), a roughneck (Deepwater Horizon), a policeman (Patriots Day). All three are drawn from real life, and that docudrama realism is not only part of their brand, but you also sense it's what motivates Berg and Wahlberg to imbue the stories with heart and gristle.
Mile 22 is a different animal – a concocted espionage caper that has Wahlberg as Silva, part of a sort of impossible mission rapid deployment force (the secretary will disavow all knowledge of their existence) assembled to address dire threats to the nation, or the planet.
In Mile 22, terrorists are going to deploy deadly radioactive material in cities around the world, so Silva and his team (directed from a remote bank of computer screens by John Malkovich and his bad toupee) are sent to Indonesia, except it's not called Indonesia, probably due to the movie's unflattering picture of it.
The part requires Wahlberg to depart from his Regular Joe persona, and the results are not pretty. Silva is explained as some kind of savant, a man with an unusually hyperactive mind that makes him good at thinking on his feet, but also causes him to be a know-it-all motormouth.
Wahlberg's frenetic line readings don't sound like some genius' rat-a-tat stream of consciousness. They sound hysterical, high-pitched, and silly. A little of him goes a long way – you may be looking, as I was, to exit Mile 22 at around Mile 5.
The movie has better luck with its supporting players. The Wahlberg/Berg movies are a famously masculine place to be, and Mile 22 makes an effort to carve out space for women (the script is by Lea Carpenter). Ronda Rousey has a role as a member of Silva's team, and The Walking Dead star (and Cherry Hill native) Lauren Cohan adds a flash of humor as a lively agent who fights the war on terror while fighting her ex-husband (Berg) via Skype. These are not glam roles. Mile 22 is a hard R, the action scenes are brutal and bloody, and the women end up with puffy eyes, bloody teeth, and worse.
The injuries arise from their dangerous assignment: to escort a man (Indonesian action star Iko Uwais) 22 miles from an embassy to a landing strip, harassed the entire way by hit squads. There are multiple gunfights, lots of martial-arts action – Berg has recruited Uwais so that he can re-stage some of the spectacular apartment-building mayhem from The Raid.
Not a good idea to invite comparisons. Berg's method of shooting from several angles and depicting the fights via a barrage of edits disrupts the choreography and lessens their impact.
The action is frantic and brutal, and the movie itself has an ugly tone (after the 10th exploding Indonesian head, I began to avert my eyes). Silva's team often comes off as arrogant, careless, and bloodthirsty. It turns out there is a storytelling purpose to all of this, related to the movie's final twist, but it's a hollow surprise that misses. By a mile.