With Ronda Rousey, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan, and Mark Wahlberg leading action flick Mile 22 there are no shortage of credible badasses to choose from. As a huge fan of both Rousey and Uwais, her for her time in MMA and the WWE, him for The Raid and its incredible sequel, this was a film high on my radar, and it didn’t hurt that it was a continuation of the Mark Wahlberg/Peter Berg bromance. And while Mile 22 features Uwais doing what he does best, there simply isn’t enough of it and there isn’t much else to carry this film the distance.
This is the fourth collaboration between Wahlberg and Berg, the latter his director on Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, and Deepwater Horizon before this. Those were all action-dramas based on real events, but Mile 22 is pure fictional claptrap, about one of those ludicrous, black ops paramilitary units you only find in movies. This one is known as Overwatch, part of the CIA’s ground branch, and they are the “last resort” when both diplomacy and the military have failed. We know all of this because Wahlberg’s character, the misanthropic psycho James Silva, tells us frequently during interview cutscenes with an unknown interrogator. It’s there that we see James’ nihilistic view of just about everything. The guy is an angry, bipolar douche to just about everybody, including his partner and struggling divorcee Alice Kerr (Cohan), whose self-destructive personality he claims is a lot like his own.
After an intense firefight during a botched raid, Mile 22 slows down considerably as the script by Lea Carpenter tries to wring whatever tension it can from a barebones plot. Things begin to pick up when Uwais arrives on the scene as Li Noor, a low-level cop in the South Asian police. He arrives at the U.S. embassy asking for asylum and a one-way ticket to America. In exchange he’ll give them access to a USB drive with information about an upcoming terror attack and the location of the lethal substance used to trigger it. But there are outside forces that want Li dead, and will do anything to make that happen. It’s up to James and his team to escort Li the 22 miles to an extraction point where a plane is waiting, but they’ll have to get through a literal warzone to do it.
Bullets fly, rockets are launched, and Wahlberg talks tough as Mile 22 finally kicks into high gear. But that’s pretty much all Wahlberg does is talk. James is a chatterbox, given to long monologues that ratchet up to scathing diatribes. He does it in interviews, quiet lunches, while staring down his enemies, and even in the midst of a fight. James is given a sob story past that paints him out to be some kind of hyper-intelligent super soldier but as one of the geeky tech analysts says, “He’s just an asshole.”
Uwais fares better in the limited amount of ass-kicking he gets to do. He’s always looked best when under the brilliant cinematic eye of The Raid director Gareth Evans, but Berg is no Evans. For all of his skill at choreographing a battlefield landscape, Berg is less skilled at shooting hand-to-hand combat. He can’t resist the quick-cutting style that blurs Uwais’ brutally precise technique, making his fights incomprehensible. Those familiar with him will see flashes of the lethal screen combatant they know and admire. There are only a couple of decent fight scenes for Uwais; the first one in a locked medical bay, being the best and most reminiscent of the work he did on The Raid. I continue to be impressed by Rousey’s growth as an actress, and have no doubt that her time in WWE is a big part of the reason why. It’s a waste to not have her throwing people around more, but Rousey makes an impression in limited time. The same goes for Cohan, who is the only one who gets anything dramatic to contend with. While I don’t think Alice’s custody dispute with her ex (played by Berg) makes any kind of sense in this straight-arrow point A to point B story, Cohan is excellent in the role. At least she gets more to do than poor John Malkovich, who does little more than walk around in a pair of Chucks barking orders into a radio.
Visceral and exciting in spurts, Mile 22 could have made better use of its brisk 90-minute runtime. When you’ve got the physical talents of Wahlberg, Rousey, and Uwais the gameplan should be a no-brainer. Give them someone to hit, stand back and let it happen. With a twist ending that teases a greater conflict in an already-announced sequel, maybe they’ll get the formula right the next time.