Mile 22: Where Bare-Knuckled Action Meets Profound Literary Quotations?

By Liam Lacey

Rating: B

In Mile 22, Mark Wahlberg plays a CIA team leader, James Silva, who is assigned to transport a whistle-blowing policeman 22 miles through a fictional southeast Asian city to an airport to get him out of the country.  The traffic is terrible. Silva and his team get chased, shot at, bombed, and forced to listen to their boss, John Malkovich, droning instructions into their headphones.

Halt... or I'll blab your ears purple!

Halt... or I'll blab your ears purple!

All this, apparently, is intended as the beginning of a franchise, a sort of Fast and Furious cars-and-espionage crossed with the martial-arts battles of The Raid. We can imagine paramilitary missions over the world with “assets” being “extracted” in as conspicuous a way as possible. 

Director Peter Berg and Wahlberg describe this kind mental chewing gum as a “character-driven” action film, which means Wahlberg plays a bit of a wacko, a speed-talking neurotic who keeps snapping a big yellow elastic on his wrist. The actor reportedly studied Steve Bannon for inspiration for his character and ended up coming up with a lot of frowning and an exasperated squeaky uptick at the end of his sentences.  

Other team members include hard-kicking girl fighter Samantha (mixed-martial artist Ronda Rousey), and Silva’s lieutenant, Alice (The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan), who must do her top-secret job while contesting a custody battle for her daughter via video calls. The point, underscored a little heavily, is that these agents — who officially have resigned from the CIA and are acting “extra-legally” — are making bigger personal sacrifices by going off the grid in this “higher form of patriotism.”

As the action accelerates, the movie jumps in one- to two-second pops between the on-the-ground action and the remote overseers led by Bishop (John Malkovich). He and his team are watching the action via drone planes while monitoring the agents’ vital signs, which go up and down like computer game character’s hit points.

The slice-and-dice fights and display of military gear is fairly conventional but the screenplay, by Lea Carpenter and Graham Roland, is at the extreme end of action movie dialogue — a steady peppering of jargon, profanities, smart-ass ripostes, and pronouncements that work more for rhythm than sense: Thus, Malkovich’s character announces: “I’m only going to outline this one time. Nine pounds of radioactive isotope is missing. It’s enough to make six major cities uninhabitable….”

Wouldn’t that possibly be worth outlining more than once?

There are also peculiar suggestions of English gentleman’s club philosophizing here. Wahlberg’s character refers more than once to “the Great Game” of espionage (a phrase popularized by Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel, Kim). And Malkovich, for no good reason, drops some H.L. Menken: “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” Does standard spy equipment include both a Glock and an antique copy of Bartlett’s Quotations?

Not likely to go down well with the politically sensitive, Mile 22 is set in a fictional corrupt and unspecific Asian city named Indocarr which it might as well be called Evil Foreigner Place (It was actually shot in Bogota, Colombia).

Still, the most compelling performance here belongs to the Indonesian actor and martial artist Iko Uwais, who became famous in The Raid movies. Here, he plays the “asset” who must be taken out of the country. Uwais’ hand-and-foot battles are genuinely explosive and when he’s not fighting, he doesn’t say much, which is a welcome relief from all the rest of the babble.

Mile 22. Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Graham Roland and Lea Carpenter. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, and John Malkovich. Opens wide August 17.