There are many kinds of spy fiction: from the suave creations of Ian Fleming, to the world-weary works of John Le Carre, to the high-octane technothrillers of Tom Clancy. Peter Berg’s Mile 22goes for the latter two, but it fails to reach either. With weak characterization, a disjointed and poorly thought out story, and undeserved pretensions at depth, the film is a mess of contradictions.
Mark Wahlberg’s performance as the lead, Jack Silva, epitomizes this problem. The covert operator’s attempts at jaded cynicism are overshadowed by the grunting and growling that goes along with the tough guy stereotype he’s chosen for the character. His attempts at intellectual examination of modern espionage are quickly shunted to the side in favor of rapid-fire action scenes that quickly begin to blend together. And this is where the majority of the film’s problems come from; it’s a movie that cannot decide what it wants to be. It wants to be a smart and gritty examination of militarized espionage, but it also wants to be a fun and fast-paced late-summer blockbuster, with each side cancelling out the other. The slower, more ambiguous parts of the story feel strange and disconnected while never providing enough depth and background, while the high- speed action sequence feel incoherent and overblown.
Aside from the lackluster plot and pacing, the action is hit and miss. Many of the action scenes suffer from the same plague found in many modern popcorn movies: the slice-and-dice quick-cut style of editing that filmmakers seem to believe heightens excitement, but in reality this only serves to make the scenes headache-inducing and difficult to follow. And there is more than one instance in which the movie makes the mistake of confusing gore with clever choreography. However, there a few excellent fight scenes from the Indonesian star making his American debut, Iko Uwais, but these are few and far between. And one cannot ignore the wasted potential in casting former mixed martial arts champion and professional wrestler, Ronda Rousey, and not giving her any significant hand-to-hand combat scenes.
To summarize, Mile 22committed one of the cardinal sins of filmmaking: trying to be too many things at once, and not being any of them well. Had they just decided to be a fun action movie, dropping the attempts at complexity and focusing on the action while tossing off witty one-liners, it might have worked. Had they decided to make a gritty drama, cutting back on the action to focus on characterization and depicting the dirty business of espionage, that also could have worked. Instead, what resulted was a confused mess. All in all, two out of five stars.
Don’t bother, wait for it to hit a streaming service if you’re an absolute Wahlberg fan.