And I thought the “Sicario” sequel would be the worst movie I saw this summer. Turns out, the worst movie of the summer may well be “Mile 22,” which arrives in theaters this weekend opposite a very different kind of hit, “Crazy Rich Asians.” This is the fourth film in a series of collaborations between actor Mark Wahlberg and writer/director Peter Berg, following three true-life dramas: “Lone Survivor” (2013), “Deepwater Horizon” (2016) and “Patriots Day” (also 2016). “Mile 22” is not based on true events, but it wouldn’t mind if you assumed that it was. Like the other three, however, it claims that few things are greater than a mediocre white man with a big gun. Audiences may disagree.
I would like to sum up the plot of “Mile 22,” but unfortunately the movie’s writers seemed confused themselves as to the point of their exposition. The film is so incoherent that the first half plays like a barrage of randomly violent scenes stitched together from various other cliché movies. Here we have the middle-of-the-film action set piece of a raid on a Russian safe house, with little explanation as to why, where or what is happening. There we have the early scene depicting Alice (played by Lauren Cohan) smashing a phone because her divorce isn’t going well. In this corner, a U.S. Embassy is under siege for reasons not properly explained other than the ambiguously Asian indigenous inhabitants don’t seem to like Americans very much. Terrorists lurk behind every corner, obviously.
As a rather unsubtle nod to the film’s plot challenges, John Malkovich appears about halfway through and gives us a linear, rational recap of what’s been happening over the first 45 minutes.
And in between all of these snapshots are insufferable clips of James Silva (Wahlberg) reciting reactionary monologues in rapid-fire fashion. These agonizingly self-important rants about higher forms of patriotism are probably supposed to come across as deep and wise. But when you listen closely, Wahlberg is mostly spitting out random phrases like “known unknowns,” “Russian hacking” and yes, “collusion.” The effect is not unlike listening to a series of Trump speeches that have been chopped up and repackaged without any thought to coherence.
As a rather unsubtle nod to the film’s plot challenges, John Malkovich appears about halfway through and gives us a linear, rational recap of what’s been happening over the first 45 minutes. Turns out James, Alice and their pals are all deep cover agents who are so deep cover, other deep cover agents don’t know who they are. Malkovich plays James Bishop, the head of operations, which is apparently why everyone else calls him Mother. It’s unclear whether this nickname is supposed to be funny, or if it just was accidentally funny. It’s a pretty good metaphor for the movie, actually.
Eventually, the team’s objective becomes more focused. There’s something about a code and some deadly isotope that’s missing which everyone keeps calling “fear powder” — but none of that really matters. What matters is they have to get a man (Iko Uwais) on a plane, setting up a series of showdowns against mostly faceless opponents. The distance between the team and the plane is — you guessed it — 22 miles.
“Mile 22” and Wahlberg seem to be attempting to promote the greatness of these white heroes, who spend their precious lives rescuing everyone else, including this “low level police officer” who wants out of the country — and maybe can prevent a massive terror plot. The filmmakers also seems to think intelligence is measured by how fast you can spew nonsense. This feels like both an insult to the action-movie genre and to speed-talkers.
To his credit, Wahlberg can act. This is not necessarily true for the rest of his rather expendable team, which includes former UFC star Rhonda Rousey and Carlo Alban, who played Carlo on “Sesame Street” in the mid-1990s. Elmo would be so disappointed.
The irony of a film that is so focused on legitimizing white paranoia is that the best performance of the film — by a mile — is Iko Uwais. Uwais is the Indonesian actor tasked with being the “the package” Li Noor. Presumably cast to represent the faceless “other,” he instead is a mesmerizing presence. Unlike most of his co-stars, he is a professional stuntman and martial artist with fight choreographer credits to his name. Not surprisingly, his are also the only fights worth watching. In fact, he’s the only one who really does much fighting at all. Everyone else just stands around shooting their impressive arsenal of weapons (or being blown to bits by the impressive weapons of the other side). Not that Uwais is any less brutal that his American counterparts, but at least there is some artistry to his violent ballet.
A few weeks before the film’s release, the Oscars announced a new category, “Achievement In Popular Film.” The move was almost unanimously panned by critics, who worry it will create a “separate but equal” category for films like “Black Panther” and “Get Out.” Wahlberg on the other hand cheered the decision. To him, it represents just one more way for mediocre white men to get accolades for their mediocre films. “Mile 22” is so bad, however, even Wahlberg, with his unceasing white male confidence, won’t be able to talk his way into an Oscar nod.
Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. Regular bylines can be found at Elite Daily, WETA's TellyVisions, and Ani-Izzy.com.