WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
An elite American intelligence officer, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of a foreign country.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Including shorts and TV episodes, Mile 22 is Peter Berg’s 28th credited directorial effort. It is also the fifth film he made with Mark Wahlberg in the leading role. I bring this up not just because in Mile 22 Berg seems entirely unaware of Wahlberg’s strengths and weaknesses as a performer but because it is a film so ineptly put together on even the most basic levels that it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s not his abortive first attempt at making a feature film.
Berg may have given us Battleship, an adaptation of a popular toy that almost makes Transformers look good, but even by his worst standards, Mile 22 is unbelievably bad. It’s a film with precisely nothing going for it (Lauren Cohan’s emotionally frayed intelligence officer comes close but the film doesn’t spend nearly enough time on her to make her anything but another missed opportunity) as it fails miserably on every conceivable front.
Straight off the bat, before even getting into the film itself, the casting of Mark Wahlberg as a genius intelligence officer who may or may not be suffering from a mental illness is as laughably stupid as it sounds. Now, I like Mark Wahlberg and when he is cast in the right roles, especially comedic films, he can be a pleasure to watch on screen as a slightly laughable but likeable screen presence. See Ted and the Other Guys for proof of this. No one in their right mind, though, would think of Wahlberg for the part of any kind of gifted tactical genius. His character is also supposed to have some sort of mental illness but between the script by Lea Carpenter and Wahlberg himself, there’s never any sense of him being anything other than, as one character actually calls him, “just an asshole”.
The film would have had at least some chance if it concentrated instead on Cohan and the potentially interesting character she plays but everything about the film’s lead is so hopelessly wrong-headed that the film never really had a chance in hell of taking off. It says, something then that Wahlberg is still the very least of the film’s problems.
There’s a metric ton of things wrong with Mile 22. Its characters are woefully under-developed, its plot is incoherent and its deadly mix of wonky pacing and total lack of sense of humour makes its theoretically brisk 90-odd minute runtime a serious slog to get through. It is, inevitably, hopelessly unengaging with nothing to really sink your teeth into and that it tries to add some sense of real-world “relevance” by throwing in some references to the new nature of warfare only makes it look all the more... desperate for something, anything to hang its hat on.
All this may put Mile 22 in the league of far too many c-grade action flicks but it’s still not enough to put Mile 22 square on the way to being one of the very worst films of the year. No, for that we have to thank to double-attack of the film’s unbearable reliance on shaky-cam and absurd rapid editing, not just in its action scenes but in every part of the film. Sure, the action set pieces, which could be something special thanks to the presence of the Raid’s Iko Uwais and his bone-crunching martial arts skills, are totally ruined by being over edited and badly shot but even if franchises like Mission Impossible and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have brought coherent action filmmaking back into fashion, this sub-sub-sub-sub Saving Private Ryan action choreography and cinematography is sadly still pretty prevalent in the action genre today. Seldom as bad as this, sure, but still pretty bad.
But the worst, worst, worst part of Mile 22 is that this form of shooting and assembling an action scene has somehow spread to the entirety of the film. There is no delineating line between the action set pieces and those quieter moments of plot exposition/character interactions and the result is an almost literal headache of a film. Like a hyper-active toddler on uppers, Mile 22 doesn’t sit still for a second, not to tell a story, not to develop its characters (not that it has much interest in either) and certainly not for its endless and increasingly numbing action set pieces (who knew this many explosions could be this boring?). I suppose the theory behind this is that rapid-fire editing makes the film more exciting but it doesn’t. It makes it boring, incomprehensible and very, very annoying.
Things got so bad that when I wasn’t closing my eyes to give my poor brain a rest from having to process this many flashing images, I literally started to count how long each shot was being held for – the most I ever got was “four”; not “four seconds” or “four Mississippis” (or, this being South Africa, “four Orange Rivers”, I suppose), just “four”. Not everything can be the car chase in the French Connection, I understand, but this is just ridiculous. How are you supposed to get involved in a film that isn’t even interested enough in itself to hold a single shot for longer than less than four seconds?
You aren’t. And, really, you shouldn’t have to.