Paced like violent diarrhea, Peter Berg’s aggressively incoherent action thriller has no discernible message or viewpoint or takeaway besides that geopolitics are little more than dirty games, except when they’re not, except when they are—and then everybody dies. If any human being wonders what Peter Berg, and by extension his muse Mark Wahlberg, feels about the wave of terrorism threatening to consume our planet in ceaseless turmoil and inevitable forever chaos, Mile 22 admits that, hey, it sucks, but you know what sucks more? Indonesia. Also: ex-husbands and their shitty new wives demanding your daughter’s favorite cupcake recipe.
Speaking of ex-husbands, American covert operative and implied autistic genius Jimmy Silva (Wahlberg) claims he’s had three spouses, which is maybe the film’s least believable assertion. Brash and egotistical, Jimmy narrates the film as a sort of debrief to higher ups, implying that at some point in the film we’ll understand why he has to defend himself by talking Micro Machines commercial fast and farting out dimwitted koans like he’s the first draft of a True Detective Season 2 monologue. There is no remorse or sadness in his voice as he tells about his teams’ murder. No regret or doubt. In turn, everyone hates him. How could three women love him? How could anyone love anyone in this world?
The film opens on a raid in a seemingly peaceful upper-middle-class neighborhood, in which Jimmy’s elite team of super soldiers—Alice (Lauren Cohan; the aforementioned divorced mom), Sam (Ronda Rousey) and a few expendable guys, all led by “Overwatch,” at the head of which is James Bishop (John Malkovich in a toupee so unsettling one can’t help but wonder why he’s wearing one at all), because Lea Carpenter’s script can’t come up with more creative names than “Jim”—ransack the hideout of a bunch of Russian operatives, or something. Shit goes sideways, and Jimmy makes a bad decision by declaring that it’s a bad decision, a bad decision which has repercussions you’ll be able to guess immediately. Cue mind-numbing credits and exposition dump, in which we’re spoonfed Jimmy’s backstory detailing the man’s troubled childhood and subsequent trauma (his whole family died in a car wreck when he was a boy, a coincidence given his young prodigy status that should have brought about character beats concerning his distrust of a government capable of controlling absolutely everything about his life, but the movie doesn’t bother), the only salient character trait translated as Jimmy’s stimming, which happens to be him snapping a rubber band on his wrist. Which he does incessantly.
Eventually the plot sort of gels slug-like into an actual narrative arc concerning the retrieval of missing Cesium, some horrible world-ending powder the seriousness of which rancorous smart guy Jimmy makes sure to yell into the face of a young woman who definitely isn’t prepared to be forced to look at black-and-white photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims. The only person who knows where the Cesium is happens to be martial arts expert and super spy Li Noor (Iko Uwais), who wants to get out of Indonesia safely, since he’s already betrayed his government. This means that Jimmy and his team have to travel 22 miles (burp) from the American Embassy to an air strip, where Li will give them the code to unlock the hard drive that has the locations of the Cesium and then get on a plane to safely leave the country that wants him dead. Berg chronicles all of this—the car chases, the shoot-outs, the hand-to-hand combat in claustrophobic hallways—with an infuriating absence of action geography, making those 22 miles simultaneously an incomprehensible stretch and a simple shot from Point A to B, time an innocuous addendum to a movie that both thinks its audience is stupid and rarely gives us enough information to care what happens to Jimmy and his crew, let alone anything. Nothing matters.
Mile 22’s real tragedy is wasting Uwais, who’s given multiple chances to brawl but not enough screen to shine. Why Berg would want to make a hybridized martial arts knuckler/espionage thriller when he never trusts that Uwais is more than capable of holding the audience’s attention with his simple prowess alone, that’s anyone’s guess, though the brutality of the action scenes Berg seems to think suffices for the total lack of grace or creativity in the way they’re shot. Meanwhile, Berg continues to fist-pump for an America that plops its big swollen genitals all over the foreheads of every other country on earth, just super-glad being a jingoistic mouthpiece—the word “fuck” spilling from every orifice—for the kind of hyper-masculine violence that’s so hyper and so masculine it’s practically neutered, every character regardless of gender just a bag of meat ready for sacrifice in debt to some vague notion of the greater good. God fucking bless America.
One could say that the film’s strength is that it’s only 90 minutes, but even that is cold comfort when the story literally ends on Mark Wahlberg pretty much admitting he’ll get them next time, snapping that fucking rubber band and refusing to “talk about” what could have been one last redeeming action set piece. The only explanation for such shoddy plotting is that this is the first in a planned franchise, but Mile 22 gives us absolutely no reason to want to return to the world of Jimmy and his war games, an apocalyptic hellscape protected by a guy who cares about nobody and is fine with it, because nobody cares about him.
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Lea Carpenter
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, John Malkovich, others I guess?
Release Date: August 17, 2018
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.