Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais Director: Peter Berg
The combination of director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg is an odd one – they constantly churn out middle of the road drama thrillers with a lot of wasted potential. If you assumed Mile 22, their fourth collaboration, would be an improvement you’re in for more disappointment because this one’s also an insipid bore.
This time Wahlberg plays James, the head honcho of a special ops military team. It comes to his notice that a batch of a dangerous substance called cesium has gone missing somewhere in Asia, and a cop named Li (Iko Uwais) is the only person who knows its location. Li makes a deal with James – take him to a secure location in the US in exchange for the information on the missing cesium. As James and his team execute Li’s transport all hell breaks loose and swarms of unidentified villains try to murder Li.
While that plot sounds fun on paper the execution is where Mile 22 does a belly flop. Not only is this film starving for genuine thrills but it’s also one that takes itself too seriously despite being a substandard Mission Impossible knockoff. A good spy film will build tension, raise the stakes and render characters we care about – under Berg’s direction we get none of those elements. The action is shot and edited in clumsy ways, leaning towards audience disorientation as opposed to giving them an adrenaline ride. Style over substance is given a pass when the style in question is itself worth writing about (Atomic Blonde comes to mind) but the mood in Berg’s palette is tacky and has a pungent hackneyed odor.
There’s little clarity in the sequence of events – the film lurches on from one mundane set piece to another without really giving us much information to care about, despite the lingering mystery behind why everyone wants Li dead. Then there’s Wahlberg’s utterly charmless persona – wallowing through the film with the lone expression of befuddlement he wears in most of his films.
Driving a stake through the heart of the suspense is the early reveal of James having already survived the events of the film which makes every anxiety filled moment he hams through useless. The supporting characters are mostly faceless and stereotypical disposable side heroes, given the token backstories that serve as placeholders – one particularly unintentionally funny aspect is a female operative in the team communicating with her ex husband through a divorce iPhone app.
The only bright spot in this film is Uwais who once again demonstrates why he’s a promising action star. If the Raid films showcased his ability to kick ass in classy ways Mile 22 gives him an avenue to flex his acting range just a little bit. Berg even does injustice to Uwais’ action by shooting and cutting his fight sequences with over the top stylistic gracelessness. Perhaps someone needs to inform Berg that a diamond doesn’t need to be polished further. And placing a diamond in a pile of garbage isn’t quite fair to said diamond.