Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg have enjoyed a productive and mostly successful creative partnership. Berg likes making movies about macho All-American Heroes who Get Things Done while the nerds around them make no meaningful contributions, and Wahlberg likes playing macho All-American Heroes who Get Things Done while the nerds around them make no meaningful contributions. It is, truly, a match made in heaven, and even when the movies are not good, or vaguely unsettling in the ways they pump up unchecked machismo as the answer to all the world’s ills, they are at least watchable. There is a basic competence to the filmmaking. Mile 22, though, is where the partnership goes bad because it is all the worst parts of the Berg/Wahlberg oeuvre and it is completely unwatchable. I mean it is just visual garbage.
Mile 22 is more than just vaguely upsetting, it is deeply disturbing in the way it pumps up unchecked machismo as the answer to all the world’s ills. Wahlberg stars as James Silva, a CIA operative who is established in an opening montage to be some kind of genius. They don’t settle on a specific diagnosis, and his peers spend their time debating if he is gifted, or if he is “just an asshole”, and Wahlberg signals his character’s intelligence by talking really fast. There is no point where you believe Silva is really smart, but Wahlberg sure does talk fast.
Silva is part of a super-elite CIA squad called “Overwatch”, which is so secret they have to resign from the CIA before taking missions. The movie opens with them executing a raid on a Russian safe house that ends with Silva killing a Russian kid. Does Mile 22 pretend like this has nothing to do with the main plot? Yes. Does this have everything to do with the main plot and is that absolutely clear from the moment a stoic Russian woman is introduced after the opening credits? Yes and yes. Mile 22 is not as clever as it thinks it is. It’s actually not clever at all. With a little self-referential humor it could have landed somewhere in the neighborhood of a Gerard Butler movie, but Mile 22 is played completely straight which makes it just plain bad, not entertainingly bad.
The obvious revenge plot revolves around a pile of missing radioactive material and a local cop in a fictional Southeast Asia country who is claiming asylum at the US Embassy. He’ll give up the location of the radioactive material once he’s aboard transport to the US, so Silva and his team have to get him to an airfield twenty-two miles away. The cop, Li Noor, is played by The Raid’s Iko Uwais, and really, HE should be the star of Mile 22, not Mark Wahlberg. Uwais understands the movie he is in and is tuned to the right frequency. He also gets the only good action sequence in the movie as he has to fight two assassins while hand-cuffed to a hospital bed. It’s a brutal fight scene you should definitely check out on YouTube someday.
Berg is usually not bad at directing action but Mile 22 looks like the whole movie was shot and edited in a blender. It is done in the aggressive quick-cutting style Paul Greengrass made popular in the Bourne movies nearly twenty years ago, which makes it feel incredibly dated. And that style has gone out of fashion recently with the onset of the long takes and stylized choreography of the John Wick movies—which are themselves influenced by The Raid. The action in Mile 22 is incomprehensible and flat-out ugly.
There is no reason to see Mile 22. It’s not even passable as brain-dead action entertainment because the action is so f*cking hideous. But the worst part isn’t even the unwatchable action or the extra toxic masculinity, it’s the ending. Because there isn’t one. In a blatant sequel-baiting move, Mile 22 doesn’t end, it just stops (blessedly, at barely ninety minutes). It’s not even one of those “we’re going to hint at more adventures for this character” things or “we’ll leave one ambiguous question for a sequel to pursue” endings. It’s a straight-up “we just aren’t going to resolve MAJOR PLOT POINTS” non-ending. They actually leave the movie UNFINISHED. It’s infuriating and it will serve Berg & Co. right if they don’t get a sequel.