Film Review: Mile 22 (USA, 2018) succeeds as an unintentional comedy instead of an action film

Oh, look! We have another Berg-er joint coming in cinemas! Mile 22 is the fourth collaboration between actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after the three dramatic films that were based on true stories i.e. the biographical war drama Lone Survivor, the disaster film Deepwater Horizon and the crime drama Patriots Day.

All of them were solidly made, competently acted and received positive reviews during their time of release. Or they all could be seen as hero masturbation fodder for lead actor Mark Wahlberg, who has said that he could have stopped the events of 9/11, if he was on-board on one of the planes. No joke.

Moving on, for their latest collaboration, it marks a departure since Mile 22 is not based on a true story, as it is a basic story about transporting an asset from point A to point B, written by first-time screenwriter Lea Carpenter.

But with Wahlberg as the lead and a supporting cast who clearly have action pedigrees on their belts, including ex-UFC fighter/wrestler Ronda Rousey and martial arts extraordinaire Iko Uwais, it could lead to being something special. Does Mile 22 go the distance or will go off track and crash and burn?

There’s really no point in doing a synopsis for this film, as it is a story that we’ve seen many, many times. But it is a well-worn plot that has resulted with effective films like Martin Brest‘s Midnight Run, George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road, Teddy Chan‘s Bodyguards and Assassins and Richard Donner‘s 12 Blocks.

Unfortunately, Peter Berg’s Mile 22 doesn’t rank anywhere near the quality of those films, as it is a chaotically edited, overblown and self-serious mess. Let’s begin with the positives. In an interview, director Peter Berg said the main reason he went on to direct this film was martial arts star Iko Uwais, and knowing his prior work, it’s not hard to see why.

Every time Uwais appears in a film, his on-screen presence and acting chops gradually improve and in Mile 22, he gives his best performance. Exuding charisma, an enigmatic presence and some welcome nuance (compared to the rest of the cast), if he keeps this progress up, he could eventually become an exceptional actor.

Unfortunately, that ends the positives and we go down the rocky road of the negatives. Unlike Peter Berg‘s prior films (barring the sci-fi blockbuster Battleship), the editing is an absolute travesty, on a storytelling level as well as a visual level. The action (particularly the fight scenes, co-choreographed by Uwais) is so riddled with fast cuts and shaky-cam, that it stings your eyes like a bad implementation of 3D. Think of the editing in action films directed by Luc Besson acolyte Olivier Megaton and you’re on the right ballpark.

Along with the eyes, what also gets hurt are your ears, because the acting from all the major players (barring Uwais) is so overwrought and blatant that it becomes farcical, if not downright annoying for some. The character that Wahlberg plays is apparently super-intelligent and autistic ala Ben Affleck in Gavin O’Connor‘s The Accountant, and yet he does the same venomous arrogant scumbag performance like he did in Martin Scorcese‘s The Departed; and yet he’s the lead. On that note, it’s already difficult to engage and sympathize with such a character. Unless you count the audience’s derisive laughter directed at him, then that could count as engagement.

To add salt to the wounds, Lea Carpenter‘s script gives him many monologues to deliver. Whether they are meant to show how intelligent he is or it is Peter Berg‘s way to add social commentary to the film via how the government is bad and military is good or it’s meant to be seen as character development, it never convinces because the delivery is executed in such a blunt-force fashion, it comes off as unintentionally funny, complete with bobblehead decorum of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. In fact, Wahlberg’s character monologues so much, Malkovich‘s character actually tells him to stop monologuing. According to an interview on Collider, Wahlberg’s monologues were cut in half. Wow, the audience luckily dodges that bullet.

Speaking of dodging bullets, Lauren Cohan does a good job with the action scenes (under all that fast editing), but her character (as well as Rousey’s) do not come off as people you would associate in real life. Cohan’s character has a character trait that she is divorced and she is having communication problems with her daughter (no thanks to the scumbag ex-husband, played by director Peter Berg). But the way it is executed (through a family app called Our Family Wizard, which is features quite a lot) and Cohan’s high-strung performance, it just comes off as funny.

Ronda Rousey‘s talents are wasted here and her character (if you could call it that) is just a cardboard cutout that spouts quips and has very little screentime, which is a shame, as Rousey looks more comfortable on-camera than she has in prior films. And then there’s John Malkovich (who previously worked with Berg on Deepwater Horizon) cashing a paycheck while donning a Johnny Unitas haircut (toupee?), staring at monitors and barking orders (although he has the best line in the film) and we have Korean singer CL making her Hollywood debut, doing absolutely nothing to contribute to the film.

Speaking of doing absolutely nothing, there is a twist in this film that appears in the final act. A twisty-twirly-swirly-curly knot of a twist that is so eye-gougingly obvious in its foreshadowing and appearance that it makes honking noises as soon as it arrives. In addition to that, it also honks out “sequel, sequel” and it also delivers a meta “joke” (delivered by Uwais) in reference to an SNL sketch about Wahlberg, which is amusing in retrospect because it’s the one thing in the film that is not funny.

And that’s all that Mile 22 has to offer: unintentional laughter and the presence of Iko Uwais. Don’t go into this film looking for quality action of Uwai’s earlier films or even Berg’s earlier films, since the action doesn’t go the distance. But out of the two STX studio films out in August, Mile 22 is far funnier than The Happytime Murders, so it definitely has that going for it.


TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Mile 22 is in cinemas now.

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