I was looking forward to Mile 22. I knew it wasn't going to be high art or even giant budgeted spectacle, but there's plenty of room between those two things for a fun movie.
The premise is simple: a squad of badasses have to get from point A to point B in a certain amount of time and pretty much everybody in-between those two points is trying to kill them. We've seen this one done before. The low key, but still pretty solid, Bruce Willis starrer 16 Blocks did it and The Raid kind of did it as well, but the twist here was it was a modern warfare take of a trained group of people instead of one guy fighting his way through some baddies.
When you add in Peter Berg directing, Mark Wahlberg starring and a team comprised of people like Ronda Rousey, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais and John Malkovich as their eye-in-the-sky overseer then you have the makings of some real fun B-grade entertainment.
The problem is they fucked it up on a fundamental level.
Structurally this thing was doomed from the script
stage. Wahlberg and his team don't even start on their title 22 mile
trek until halfway through the movie so the whole reason you want to
watch the movie feels rushed. I could forgive that if they spent the
first half of the movie really focused on character, making us care
about the team before they go into the shit, but instead they spend
that time trying to be quippy while over-explaining a hilariously
The Raid's Iko Uwais is a cop who has knowledge of the location of some deadly powder that I guess acts like a nuclear bomb, irradiating entire cities if sprinkled on the ground. He'll tell the US where all this stuff is if they can get him safely out of his country. It's 22 miles from the embassy where he's being held and the airplane that will take him to America and it's up to Mark Wahlberg and his crew to get him there.
We don't really need anything else plot-wise, but nobody told director Peter Berg or screenwriter Lea Carpenter that. No, there's a subplot about evil Russians infiltrating the mission and a ridiculously in-depth backstory on Mark Wahlberg's childhood. I get that we need these characters to have personality and tics, but making Wahlberg's character an autistic genius who puts together “impossible” puzzles in his spare time doesn't really match up with the high-strung 'roid rage character he plays for most of the movie. In fact it seems like the only reason we're given that particular backstory is so he has a reason to snap a rubber band around his wrist over and over again in his many monologue scenes.
Critics were unkind to Ben Affleck's The Accountant, but at least his character is consistent. His ability to be an incredible assassin was directly tied into his character making his autism work for him. There's definitely a conversation to be had about using a real thing that real people have to integrate into their lives this way in movies, but we can all agree that Affleck's character being autistic meant something to that film's story We don't get anything like that in Mile 22.
They tell us Mark Wahlberg is a genius, but we never see any evidence of it. He's just a good soldier. He doesn't ever outthink his opponent or show more focus or anything. He's just good at shooting and working under fire. That's it.
The movie also lets down his squad. Ronda Rousey is established as a good fighter and you know she's tough because she says “fuck” a lot and... then doesn't do anything with her. The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan is given some dramatic meat with a pending divorce and child custody battle brewing while she's supposed to be dealing with this intense situation. Cohan does a good job showing the character's ability to compartmentalize without making her feel cold and uncaring about her family, but that doesn't change the fact that for the first half of the movie her character doesn't do much more than awkwardly get angry at phone calls with her soon to be ex, inexplicably played by Berg himself.
Iko Uwais is the standout here. His character is mysterious, multi-layered and the only one who gets a chance to really show off just how formidable he is. It might help that he also choreographed most of the fight scenes and he's involved with roughly 90% of them, but it's a testament to just how effortlessly badass he is that his choreography shows through Berg's quick-cut editing style at all. The geography is rarely established and the hand to hand scenes are shot so close and cut so quickly that it's doubly frustrating for anybody who has seen The Raid films and know what Uwais is capable of.
They try to do something interesting and different with the ending. Naturally I won't go into any detail on that, but I will say I liked the direction, but it was too little too late at that point.
So the movie fails on a character level, on a pacing level and on a fun action film level. Those are the three things that should have been a given with this idea and talent involved. The movie was a big whiff for me and I'm no film snob who thinks everything should be a Criterion film. I walked in excited to have a good time at the movies and left angry at the missed opportunity here.