Deep into the gruesome, action-packed, explosion-filled and convoluted mess that is “Mile 22,” somebody throws a quiet verbal jab in the direction of Mark Wahlberg’s black ops specialist, James Silva.
Silva takes a beat. What did that guy just say?
It’s almost as if our anti-hero has absorbed such a pounding, taken such a pummeling, been knocked around so much, he’s virtually numb to whatever happens next.
We know how he feels.
“Mile 22” is the fourth collaboration in recent years between director Peter Berg, who really knows how to shoot kinetic, fast-paced action scenes as well as rapid-cut hand-to-hand combat sequences, and Wahlberg, who of course really knows how to carry such movies.
“Lone Survivor” (2013), “Deepwater Horizon” (2016) and “Patriots Day” (2016) were all inspired by true stories, and though one might have occasionally winced at the notion of real-life tragedies being turned into vehicles for Mark Wahlberg action movies, all three films were solid efforts, made with respect for the actual heroes.
Now comes the purely fictional CIA thriller “Mile 22,” and though it crackles with energy and has some impressive albeit gratuitously bloody kill sequences, the Big Picture plot is a dud, up to and including the preposterous final scenes.
As the body count piles up and various characters get shot, stabbed, kicked, punched, bludgeoned and otherwise reduced to a pulp, our emotional investment in the (relatively) good guys remains at a minimum, because we know so little about them. This film plays like a live-action video game crossed with an overwritten screenplay in which characters occasionally take a break from the action to rattle off super-speedy, tongue-twisting dialogue that was probably a lot more fun for the actors to deliver than it is for us to withstand.
Wahlberg’s Silva, we’re told, was a hyperactive, super-intelligent, overly aggressive kid, prone to outbursts. If that’s not baggage enough, as a young boy he was the lone survivor of a terrible accident that wiped out the rest of his family.
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When Silva was a kid, a therapist gave him a rubber band and told him to snap his wrist every time his mind started moving too quickly and he could feel his temper heating up.
Some 30 years later, Silva is still regularly snapping the rubber band — which leads us to believe maybe that little technique didn’t quite do the trick.
Silva is the leader of an elite band of CIA paramilitary operatives who don’t officially exist. (Gee, there’s an original concept.) His team includes Alice (Lauren Cohan from “The Walking Dead”), a divorced mother with a young daughter, and also Sam (Ronda Rousey) and couple of dudes, and I can’t tell you anything more about Sam or those dudes because the movie doesn’t tell us anything about them.
To say Silva believes in tough love is to understate the matter. His primary means of motivation is to scream like a maniac in the face of subordinates, while rattling off historical facts like a human Wikipedia. When one of his team members gets shot, he tells him to suck it up and get tough.
Hmmm, maybe Silva isn’t the right guy to lead a team of off-the-grid CIA operatives on high-level missions with tens of millions of lives at stake. This guy makes the likes of Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne and James Bond look like very stable geniuses.
The “Mile 22” of the title refers to a 22-mile route in a war-torn Southeast Asia country that Silva and team must navigate in order to safely transport one Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a valuable asset who will only reveal the code to an all-important file (there’s always an all-important file) once he’s on a plane bound for America. Get him to safety, and THEN he’ll give you the code! But not before that!
Of course, there’s a seemingly endless supply of Anonymous, Well-Armed Henchmen in cars and on motorcycles and on foot nearly every mile along the way, doing their bloody best to kill Team Silva and that human asset.
I liked Iko Uwais as the asset, Li Noor. Even when he’s in handcuffs, he’s a fantastically creative fighter, capable of taking down growling, snarling villains two at a time.
Oh, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Silva’s supervisors — not one but two Steppenwolf legends. Terry Kinney plays Porter, who interacts with Silva in person, and John Malkovich is Bishop, who (along with his team of computer geniuses) oversees every mission from a remote locale. They’re both great, as usual, spinning their lines with the same creativity and energy they’d employ if they were in a much better film.
STXfilms presents a film directed by Peter Berg and written by Lea Carpenter. Rated R (for strong violence and language throughout). Running time: 94 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.