As movie stars become more powerful, they reveal hitherto unseen aspects of their personality. For instance, Mark Wahlberg, who infamously said he might have prevented a 9/11 attack had he been a passenger on the plane, has entered a new phase of his career, exposing his vanity and tastes. So Mile 22, produced by Wahlberg and directed by his frequent collaborator Peter Berg, once again casts the actor as a cocky, rude, macho but highly capable man of action. These, apparently, are qualities that Wahlberg values in a screen hero.
As Jimmy Silva, Wahlberg is the leader of an elite team (is there any other kind?) who step in to carry out deadly missions when those wimpy, pencil-neck egghead diplomats have failed. While Silva and his team are working in a fictitious Asian country, a mysterious local cop Li Noor (Iko Uwais) turns up at the US Embassy promising the location of a missing radioactive materials in exchange for asylum.
This means that Silva and company have to escort Li through a hostile, crowded city to a landing strip, negotiating ambushes, hitmen and other dangers across 22 miles. This might sound familiar to anyone who’s seen The Gauntlet, 16 Blocks, Midnight Run or any videogame with an escort mission.
Even with its familiar premise, Mile 22 has many of the ingredients required to make a solid B-movie; a decent cast, a director who can craft effective action scenes and a simple, propulsive story. For its first two acts it delivers: It’s fast-talking, kinetic and stylish, with some genuinely thrilling action beats. There are even good performances, from Lauran Cohan and Iko Uwais.
Uwais is a compelling actor and a marvel to watch in a fight scene. It’s likely that Berg and the film’s producers were impressed by Uwais’s incredible work in The Raid and its sequel. So it’s a little baffling that Uwais spends much of his screentime sitting in a waiting room or in the back of a car. In the two scenes where he’s uncaged, the action is brutal and pulse-raising (if over-edited) so it’s a shame he wasn’t given more time to shine.
For a while, Mile 22’s set pieces and pace are enough to help us overlook its dodgy politics (we’re expected to cheer at drone strikes, for instance) and the fact that Wahlberg’s character is a jerk. It might have emerged as a satisfying action movie if it had stuck the landing.
Paradoxically, the more you’ll enjoy the first two acts, the more ripped off you’ll feel by its ending. I understand that films are often made to be part of a franchise, but an action movie that doesn’t have an ending feels like a breach of the storyteller/audience contract. We’re asked to invest in a story and its characters and in exchange we get a satisfying denouement…which never arrives in this case. The story ends abruptly at a cliffhanger, credits roll and a bewildered, frustrated audience wonders if a sequel will ever materialize.