Will Mark Wahlberg’s latest be the first movie to get the big 22 stars? Spoiler: no.
DIRECTOR Peter Berg CAST Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey
PLOT In the Southeast Asia country of Indocarr, a police officer (Uwais) holds the key to sensitive terrorist intel that could save the lives of millions. It’s up to elite paramilitary agent James Silva (Wahlberg) and his team to escort him across a city to safety — but a lot can happen in 22 miles.
UP UNTIL NOW, the collaborations between director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg have focused on honouring the stories of all-american heroes. This film, their fourth together, is purely fictional. And, with no real people to honour, Berg and ’Berg have decided to switch it up by focusing on a character who is, as presented here, an all-american asshole.
Meet James Silva (Wahlberg), an agent of the CIA’S elite ‘Ground Branch’, which perhaps sounds more horticultural than intended but is actually the ‘third option’ after both diplomatic and militaristic solutions have been depleted — the shady off-the-books operation. Silva, as a breathless title sequence explains, is an experienced soldier blessed with a superior brain (“his mind moves faster than most!”). The only evidence for this rare intelligence seems to be Silva’s love for blank jigsaw puzzles, a visual motif which is only clever if you don’t think about it for too long.
Wahlberg was born to play hotheads with short fuses, but Silva is far too abrasive for us to side with. He’s like Wahlberg’s character in The Departed, if The Departed had atrocious dialogue. He lashes out at everything from foreign dignitaries to birthday cakes, and never quite convinces in his competence as an elite super-soldier. Still, as the nominal hero of this tale, Silva is tasked with safely transporting a human Macguffin across a city, and so his 22-mile mission begins. For all its espionage posturing, there’s a very straightforward action movie here: protect the asset, shoot the bad guys.
Berg’s strengths always lay in staging tense, muscular action, and there’s certainly a couple of standout sequences: a palm-moistening pre-credits raid on a safe house which goes smoothly, until it doesn’t; and a furious hospital fight scene with The Raid’s Iko Uwais. Mostly, though, the action takes the form of endless and quite boring gunfire exchange, with huge portions of the film rendered incoherent by Berg’s trigger-happy editing finger.
None of this is helped by a script which juggles unintentionally hilarious dialogue (“I’m going to the fight the fuck out of these motherfuckers!”) with deeply problematic politics. Torture and drone strikes are callously advocated as “a higher form of patriotism”. There’s some guilty fun to be had from all the excitement, but unlike Berg and Wahlberg’s earlier works, it’s hard to shake the uncomfortable feeling that you’re being invited to root for the bad guys.
VERDICT A tense and nasty thriller, Mile 22 is a frustrating experience that makes you wonder if Peter Berg should stick to depicting real-life tragedies instead.
★★ OUT 19 SEPTEMBER CERT 12A / 94 MINS
Gunning for trouble: Mark Wahlberg plays a clever-clogs CIA agent.