Is there a director/actor combo working today more reliably meatheaded than Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg? Mile 22, their fourth collaboration — following the exhausting “true stories” Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day — finds them finally abandoning anything close to reality, cinematic or otherwise, and gunning it forward straight into Simon West territory. Where the ’90s and early ’00s output of West and his ilk are known for one or two scenes per movie where a character goes on a (hilarious?) swearing rampage or someone explains some bit or other of arcana to another, Mile 22 is nothing but that. Imagine if all those Tarantino rip-off artists did nothing other than have their characters quote sufficiently menacing Bible passages to each other, driving around in cars that are always blasting Gerry Rafferty and Delfonics songs while they shoot people in the face for two straight hours, and you can start to see what I mean.
Throughout the film’s running time, most of the secondary characters are limited to one of two topics of conversation. The first is speculating about what exactly is the nature of Wahlberg’s mental illness, the one that drives him to be such an unstoppable force of nature when it comes to his job. The second is very similar to the first but is more specifically tied to wondering aloud about how a man who is clearly their intellectual superior, a bona fide genius in every conceivable way, can stand to be around them at all.
It’s almost impressive how Berg manages to keep topping himself in terms of signaling his own outdated, supermacho and ultimately meaningless brand of “patriotism.” It’s nothing if not a narrative three-ring circus of contradictions. We get several references to the fact that Wahlberg’s character hates “computer people” and “nerds” (really), but he relies on them literally every second of his day, taking advantage of their unerring surveillance tactics to keep him moving and ready to strike at any moment. We also learn, helpfully, that he hates birthday cake in a scene wherein he smacks a piece of birthday cake out of another character’s hand and screams in her face, “No birthday cake!” This comes from out of nowhere at the end of a scene that wasn’t about birthday cake at all, and, in fact, I think was included just to give me something positive to write about. Thanks, Peter Berg!
The worst offence of all, though, is Berg’s casting of Iko Uwais in a supporting role. Because when you have this guy in your movie, you’re going to spend a lot of time taking advantage of that fact, which the film recognizes. The downside is that this otherwise boring and lazy movie suddenly springs to life whenever we get some good close-quarters brawling for Uwais to take part in, which, again, if the movie hadn’t given him stuff like this to do, it would have been borderline criminal. But it just spells out what a waste of all the other resources this thing really is. Beyond the fact that Ronda Rousey gets nothing at all to do and John Malkovich paces around in Chuck Taylors and a bad hairpiece for the whole movie, Mile 22 proves to itself that it had what it took to be an interesting piece of cinema. It just decided to be a Mark Wahlberg movie instead.
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.