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Once upon a time, Mark Wahlberg said that if he were to intervene during the most notable terrorist attack on American soil, Sept. 11, he would have made sure a lot of terrorist blood was spilled. That is exactly the sort of patriotic machismo that his latest collaboration with director Peter Berg, Mile 22, trades in. But while Wahlberg's tone deaf statement was just the right amount of bravado to be funny (at the time), this current movie is so amazingly blunt about what it's trying to say that it forgoes any sort of pretext or thematic reasoning in the telling. Which leaves us with what's barely called a movie.
James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his special operations team known as "Overwatch" (Ronda Rousey, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich) have a limited window to escort a high level informant (Iko Uwais) to an extraction point, in order to gain the intelligence he has pertaining to stolen nuclear material. As the clock winds down, and the 22 mile journey to safety begins, those who would silence this witness throw everything they've got at Silva and his Overwatch team.
Some might call Mile 22 propaganda, even though it lacks any emotional engagement in one's sense of duty or patriotism. As Wahlberg's protagonist berates his colleagues with every instance of historical knowledge that applies to the situation at hand, it feels like he's also yelling at the audience about how important his spec ops unit really is. If A Few Good Men's Col. Jessup ever wrote a movie, this would be the end result. The threadbare narrative is most apparent when the film tries to pull one over on the audience, in a turn of events that would have worked so much better if Mile 22 slowed down to actually tell a sliver of a story. It's a movie in a rush to bark at its audience about how we need people like this on the hypothetical wall, yet it can't even put in the most basic and perfunctory effort to lay things out in a paint-by-numbers pattern.
As there's a lack of story, there's also a lack of character in Mile 22, leaving all involved with very little to latch onto as actors. Mark Wahlberg and his cast are basically there to scowl, swear, and curse the lives that they lead as special ops soldiers, while Wahlberg reminds them of the important work they do. A particularly ugly subplot involving Lauren Cohan's ex-husband and their bitter co-parenting relationship left me wishing that piece of the story had been punched up just a little more, as Cohan seems to be doing the most acting out of this entire crew, and better material for her could have made this film a bit more bearable. Though, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Ronda Rousey's part is so woefully underwritten, it gets some unintended chuckles when she's called upon to do such things as blast co-workers for being "nerds."
Despite the rah-rah cheerleading that director Peter Berg and his patriotic colleagues do in Mile 22, you could have at least expected the slam-bang action to make up for the lazy, insulting story the film walks away telling. That's not the case here, as the action isn't paced as a relief from the "slow parts," rather it's the whole damned movie. And when the film does switch into ass-kicking mode, it's shot and edited in such a way that it's hard to keep up with the action. Basically, take a special ops thriller, dial down the exposition to scenes where the swearing is the vocabulary, and amp up the action to take the place of those pesky story beats that slow a movie like this down.
The end result of Mile 22 is particularly surprising coming from Peter Berg, as he's clearly capable of making a better film than this, while also appealing to the red-blooded patriot that exists in his target audience. Lone Survivor was a clear example of where a story that could have been mere pablum was told with the right balance of heart and holler. There is no such balance in Mile 22, and you're expected not only to like it, but to salute and ask for more. Perhaps the most insulting fact about Mile 22 is that it steals its protagonist from The Accountant and its perceived plot from Mission: Impossible - Fallout, while stripping away everything that made those films special, replacing it with mindless explosions and shoot outs. It may only be a little over an hour and a half long, but Mile 22 doesn't need that much time to tell you that it's thunderingly, insensitively dumb.