There’s good action, there’s basic action, and there’s bad action. Good action is when a film like “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” comes along and ups the ante with incredible editing and choreography and a complex story. Bad action is like the “Transformers” movies that are all explosions, cliches and no real substance. It’s the action films in the middle, the basic action movies, that are a little harder to judge. Director Peter Berg’s “Mile 22” is one of those films. The fourth collaboration between Berg and Mark Wahlberg, it’s the duo’s first film together not based on real life events. Sometimes being a basic action film is enough to make a movie satisfyingly entertaining. Sometimes it’s not even close to enough to justify its existence. Which is it for this attempted franchise starter? Let’s dive in. This is my review of “Mile 22”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Mile 22” stars Mark Wahlberg as James Silva, a CIA operative with a personality complex who controls his overactive temper by snapping a wristband. Silva leads a team called Overwatch, a strike force comprised of troubled mother Alice (Lauren Cohan), sarcastic tough woman Sam (Ronda Rousey), and sharpshooter Douglas (Carlo Alban). They are referred to as child 1 through 4 respectively while on missions and are led by a group of behind the scenes experts led by James Bishop (John Malkovich), code name Mother. When the team is charged with locating shipments of a destructive substance called cesium Alice leans on an informant named Li Noor (Iko Uwais) who turns himself into the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia with information of the cesium’s whereabouts that he will only divulge if given safe passage to the United States. Overwatch is activated with the goal of reaching an extraction point 22 miles away with Indonesian Special Forces hot on their tail.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, there’s not a lot to praise in “Mile 22” in terms of performances. It’s actually kind of odd because there are two actors who are pretty good while the main star is completely over the top and others just aren’t really there at all. Let’s start at the top with Mark Wahlberg who is a complete camera hog in this movie. Wahlberg plays the team leader James Silva who gets some decent character development even if only in the form of exposition in the opening credits. I do feel like there was potential with this character who is given a nasty disposition via an attitude and temper that he tries to level out using the method of snapping an elastic wristband on his arm which is a controversial real world coping skill used to avoid self harming. The problem is Wahlberg completely overshoots it going over the top in more ways than one during Silva’s emotional outbursts. There’s absolutely NO subtlety whatsoever to Wahlberg’s performance and while it makes him look like a badass it completely under minds his abilities as a leader. How does a man this out of control get a position at the top of his crew? It’s just so out there and not very believable. If the performance had packed a bit more subtlety I might have believed it, but not in this form. Instead it’s just Wahlberg hamming it up and It’s not entertaining, it’s annoying and takes all complexity away from his character.
There are some good performances to note though, specifically Lauren Cohan as Alice and Oki Uwais as Li Noor. Starting with Cohan, her performance isn’t completely there but compared to the rest of the cast it’s not that bad. She’s clearly the only one trying to show some restraint while also embracing the attitude required to do the job. Cohan’s Alice is a tough woman dealing with personal issues that are bleeding into her work life and the impact of these problems show throughout the movie. She’s actually probably the most developed member of the entire team as we see her trying to continue to be the tough warrior she was trained to become while also juggle being a good mother to her daughter. Funny enough it’s her character’s informant that gives us the best performance of the entire movie. Like Cohan, Iko Uwais isn’t exactly top notch in this movie but he takes the entire project to a different level. Uwais provides the intense and layered acting that Wahlberg SHOULD have given us leaving some complexity and mystery to Li Noor even as his personality and intentions begin to unravel throughout the story. Not once in the film does it feel like we or the Overwatch team completely understand him and that’s a good thing especially considering the important part he plays in this film. Uwais is also part of some of the best fight scenes in the film which puts him at the center of the few moments that make “Mile 22” an even remotely watchable action flick.
The rest of the cast just fades into the background. Rondy Rousey is as bland as ever save for one good scene where her character is cornered by assailants the results of which I won’t spoil here. Even John Malkovich, a guy known for chewing the scenery in films, is oddly reserved in this flick. Despite being an action film there’s not a lot of energy from most of the cast save for Wahlberg’s overacting and Uwais balance of mystery and badassness. It truly feels like several people in this cast were brought on board for the sake of having them in an action movie. Few of the characters feel developed or worth the time and when someone dies or is injured it’s hard to get invested because the actors have done nothing to make us care. Looking at the performances overall, I’d say there are a few standout characters but not nearly enough to make “Mile 22” anything worth putting on a resume.
I can’t say “Mile 22” is a complete waste of time. It’s a lot better than many basic action movies with it’s biggest draw coming from the action scenes themselves and there are quite a few of them. I guess Peter Berg should be commended for at least putting some quality action in an action movie. While I have my problems with the camerawork and filming of the action which I’ll touch on later I can’t say I was bored. There’s a lot of great moments spread throughout this hour-and-a-half movie including shootouts, hand to hand combat, thrilling close calls and an incredibly entertaining and surprisingly well shot and choreographed fight within the embassy between Li Noor and a few goons trying to kill him. So, to “Mile 22’s” credit, when the action kicks up it is pretty fun and despite the movie taking a while to get to the point, something else I’ll talk about a bit farther down, there is plenty of it to behold to satisfy anyone’s craving for some good old fashion beat downs and gun fights.
While it’s not in any way perfectly portrayed I also can say there’s potential in “Mile 22’s” premise. We’ve seen the race against time trope before in the action genre and I always find it kind of fun. Seeing capable protectors racing to the finish with the odds against them never seems to get old for me and despite seeing this premise many times over I honestly never felt like I was watching a copycat film while viewing “Mile 22”. For what it is it manages to embrace its own identity, putting its own spin on the cliche even if that spin isn’t handled properly or seen through as effectively as it could have been. Even though I’ll probably never watch it again I can say without a shadow of a doubt that “Mile 22” kept me interested even when I thought it was absolutely stupid, contrived, or poorly acted and directed. That’s saying something I guess because it means that even at its worst “Mile 22” taps into that special something that can’t quite be explained. It satisfies on some level, even if it’s just through basic thrills, which is enough to keep it from being a massively unwatchable movie even if it’s not enough to make it anything close to a good movie.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Even though the action scenes are fun and “Mile 22” doesn’t always feel like a waste of time it’s just SOOOOOO basic it’s not even funny. Other than the Li Noor fight in the embassy the action scenes are all over the place. Whether it’s a shootout on the road or hand to hand combat in an apartment complex it’s near impossible to know where anyone is in relation to each other. The action is as bare bones as could be offering little to nothing we haven’t seen before with better results, again save for the Li Noor embassy fight which I know I keep bringing up but that’s because it’s truly the ONE amazing moment in this movie. It just never reaches anything more than simple popcorn action flick levels of intensity or fun and that’s a sin on the filmmakers and actors for adding nothing new to the genre and giving “Mile 22” very little to help it stand out. The camerawork is basic, the premise is handled with a basic amount of effort, the shootouts are basic, everything is basic with this film. There’s no effort to make it anything special and even when there is that effort it comes in the form of Mark Wahlberg’s overacting and yes a few great moments that are memorable on their own but do nothing to make the FILM itself memorable as an overall product.
Not to mention, and this is my biggest gripe with this movie, it takes FOREVER to start heading towards the 22nd mile. I’ve given this movie props as a fun, if simple and phoned in, action flick but in the end the idea was to get an asset 22 miles to a drop point and it takes more than half the movie to even get the wheels spinning. If it weren’t for some fun action mixed in for spice early on this movie would have felt like a 22-mile jog to the finish line because man does it take a long time to get to the point. The setup for the trek to the extraction point is drawn out, and needlessly so. It’s done that way to set up character arcs that don’t really pay off and to set up the opponents that will stand in Overwatch’s way. The result leaves us with a shortened and unsatisfying waste of the premise because it takes all of maybe 35 to 45 minutes to get from wheels on the ground heading to extraction to the final moments of the film that are meant to set up a sequel “Mile 22” doesn’t actually deserve. It all does come around to a pretty neat twist ending, one everyone will see coming, but the pacing is just all over the place and it doesn’t help that we have Wahlberg’s character engaging in an interview that is interwoven with the action that confused the heck out of me and provided no payoff by the end of it once the film revealed how it tied into everything. It’s just as mess. A fun mess, but a mess nonetheless.
“Mile 22” is basic. That’s the theme of this review really…it’s just a basic action movie. It offers glimmers of greatness like the embassy fight, a cool twist ending, and enough action to satisfy at least the simplest of genre fans. The problem is that’s all it offers. Mark Wahlberg is trying way too hard, no one else is trying hard enough not even the director, and the story takes WAY too long to kick into fifth gear. There’s little creativity put into even trying to make “Mile 22” unique or memorable. It’s just there, and it feels content just being there which is far from enough to make it worth much more than maybe a single watch to satisfy any craving for late summer action. To say I wasn’t impressed would be an understatement but I can’t say I was bored. “Mile 22” has its moments, but that’s all it has is moments. Moments that remind me how much better this film could have been and remind me that there are much better action offering that give me more than the filmmakers involved here were willing to even attempt to offer.