Coming across as a macho, meat-headed take on Mission: Impossible, director Peter Berg’s bloody, hyperactive action thriller Mile 22 entertains by never taking itself too seriously. Given Berg’s past track record as a filmmaker alongside star and frequent collaborator Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day), one could be forgiven for thinking that their latest team-up surrounding a covert anti-terrorist organization would be a self-serious affair. While there are plenty of dark, gritty, and politically loaded moments peppered throughout Mile 22, this is definitely Berg working in a more crowd pleasing mode. Mile 22 just wants to administer beat downs, explosions, car chases, shoot outs, and silly, continually mounting twists. It’s brutal, but it also wants to be fun and playful, never afraid to toy with goofy action movie clichés and tropes. Such filmmaking certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Berg’s latest offers a fair bit of late summer, guilty pleasure fun.
Wahlberg stars as Jimmy Silva, a high profile member of Overwatch, a covert U.S. task force that takes on assignments the FBI, CIA, or military can’t handle. Currently stationed Southeast Asia, Silva and fellow task force leader Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) are about to tackle their most difficult and time sensitive mission to date. A supposedly low-level local law enforcement officer name Li (The Raid’s Iko Uwais) arrives at the American embassy claiming to have information about a hidden stash of a biochemical weapon agent that the Russians have been attempting to steal for quite some time. Li claims that he has the details of the materials’ whereabouts and means of stabilizing it encrypted onto a flash drive. In eight hours, the code will self destruct and become impossible to decipher. The key to decrypting the information is locked away in his mind, and he refuses to cooperate unless he’s put on a plane and granted asylum in America. Jimmy and Alice remain skeptical about Li’s claims, but after witnessing how his own country’s government is willing to kill to keep his secrets quiet, the government agents agree race against the clock and make a dangerous trip to an airstrip that will bring their informant to safety.
Mile 22 requires a high suspension of disbelief, not just because of the widespread carnage and chaos Berg and first time screenwriter Lea Carpenter have concocted, but because it’s packed with larger than life, borderline cartoonish characters. While the headshots, stabbings, and brutal hand-to-hand fistfights look unnervingly gruesome, it’s all told with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The three primary characters are all vastly different in their temperament and skill set, but all of them are lovingly fleshed out and detailed. It’s the kind of movie designed for old school action movie buffs who like to watch tough talking people threatening each other at the tops of their lungs. Again, this isn’t everyone’s preferred type of action vehicle, but such histrionic thrillers certainly aren’t without their charms when they’re this engaging and energetic.
The pace of the film is mile-a-minute, and it’s set not only by Berg, but by Wahlberg’s most uniquely eccentric performance to date. It’s heavily implied that Jimmy Silva is an outright psychopath with anti-social tendencies. He’s the type of man who’s constantly cranked to eleven at all time, snapping a wristband whenever social situations force him to slow down, looking constantly inconvenienced and antsy in the process. Wahlberg delivers something akin to a classic Nicolas Cage turn here, speaking at an alarming rate of breathless speed, putting people down with snappy zingers that crash into one another, and constantly appearing menacing and unhinged in the process. This is the type of dude who would run into a burning building to punch at the fire and taunt it for not being hot enough. It’s a technique that Wahlberg usually reserves for his comedic performances, but it works just as well here, and there’s a sense that the actor is once again poking fun at the unnecessary theatricality of tough guys. His performance strange to get a handle on at first, but it totally works for the material.
Every bit Wahlberg’s capable equal (probably because the film was written by a woman who’s also having fun poking holes in machismo bullshit), Cohan gets ample opportunity to make Alice a more complex, but equally capable character. While other team members (including Ronda Rousey as a boots on the ground grunt and John Malkovich as the office bound squad leader) blend into the background, Cohan is given a humanizing and relatable subplot as a divorced parent constantly at odds with her loutish ex-husband (played by Berg). Alice’s approach is more stoic, steely eyed, and deceptive than Jimmy’s balls-to-the-wall approach, and the pair complement each other nicely.
Mile 22 also serves as a nice showcase for Uwais’ martial arts talents, and this will assuredly break him even further into the mainstream of English language cinema. A brawl where a near naked Li fights off a pair of assassin orderlies while handcuffed to a gurney happens early on and remains the most impressive action sequence in a film full of imaginative and intense skirmishes. He’s such a commanding character and presence that he might be the only person capable of shutting motor-mouthed Jimmy up for a few moments with his physical and tactical abilities.
The focus here is purely on the action, and Berg and Carpenter seem to have a relationship similar to the one shared by Jimmy and Alice on screen. It’s a swinging dick action picture that’s been made with a remarkably feminine sense of humour and tragedy. Berg plays the part of Jimmy, delivering a spectacle packed final product with more grit and brutality than polished panache, while Carpenter’s material plays the part of Alice, constantly cognizant of how silly all of this can sound, but completely invested in the mission at hand. Together, they make Mile 22 into a balanced, unpretentious bit of summertime bombast that shouldn’t be taken seriously in the slightest.
Mile 22 opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, August 17, 2018.
Check out the trailer for Mile 22: