“Mile 22” may be the ideal film for this troubled moment in history. Has social media rewired your brain to avoid prolonged concentration? Step right up. Have you lost any sense that we live in a realistic, comprehensible world? This is your lucky day. Would your pleasure centers be triggered by repeated scenes of men giving bloody, bone-breaking beatings to women? Come on down, this is the movie for you.
If you think I am going to call “Mile 22” a bad film, you are wrong. It’s not a film at all. It is a cringe factory working on overdrive to churn out sadistic shocks and a generally malevolent tone. Roughly fashioned as an action thriller set in the spy world, it contains minimal espionage but nonstop scenes of brutality presented with incoherent handheld camerawork and editing that is jerky in every sense of the word.
The film is set in a collapsing Asian nation at a time of increasing U.S.-Russian tensions. Mark Wahlberg plays James Silva, a top field operative whom the U.S. turns to when diplomacy and the military can’t handle a tough job.
He is tasked with transporting a man who knows an all-important secret to the distant airport. They run a nonstop gauntlet of hit men along the way, with more in pursuit. This all-guilt, no-pleasure slaughter gives us six gruesome corpses burned, stabbed and shot all before the opening credits, so what happens next doesn’t require explanation.
Silva became a secret agent after a childhood tragedy. Most of his colleagues question his sanity. He has become a merciless killing machine who keeps full mental collapse at bay by snapping his rubber wristband, which in the context of this movie is considered subtle character development.
Despite being gifted with allegedly extraordinary intelligence, Silva is a complete dope. He turns each conversation into a gibberish monologue filled with statements that “trust is a dangerous weapon” and warnings that everyone better not mess with him. He sounds like a middle school bully reciting every obscenity in his vocabulary.
That puts him slightly ahead of his fellow secret agents and handlers in nonstop vulgarity. In an unforgettable tough guy moment, Silva slaps a colleague’s birthday cake off the table and, to make the point clear, shouts, “No birthday cake for you!” You watch and wonder how any one of them got security clearance.
Director Peter Berg, who collaborated with Wahlberg in the gripping Boston Marathon terrorist suspense drama “Patriots Day” two years ago, falters with this boilerplate pulp. There is not a scene with a coherent focus on acting, presentation or screenplay.
While Wahlberg is at his rage-aholic peak, he’s far outacted by Indonesian martial arts star Iko (“The Raid”) Uwais, wasted as the man Silva is bodyguarding. Every time he was on camera, I wished that character would be explored more.
John Malkovich appears in a heinous wig as a director of operations monitoring Silva and a half-dozen teammates from a distant computer control center. As they try to drive to the escape plane, he continually orders them to take a disconnected alternate route or turn around and go the other way. The story moves in much the same way, shifting between endless bloody attacks and counterstrikes while going nowhere worth all the effort.
Through it all, Berg pays more attention to grievous bodily harm than unfolding the story’s catalog of triple agents and hidden agendas. But he is certainly on point about showing wounds in detail, delivering faces ripped apart by explosions and knifed thighs that look like sliced roast beef. As the body count rises, the stock phrase “senseless tragedy” comes to mind. The most interesting aspect of the entire movie is when it’s going to be over.