Mark Wahlberg’s “Mile 22 ” character James Silva has a tick where he snaps a yellow rubber bracelet against his wrist. He does this many, many times throughout this all-out assault of a movie, which seems to have been shot and edited with the singular purpose of leaving the audience confused and disoriented at every turn. This restless camera can’t even hold still during a simple scene of dialogue, changing focus every two seconds — eyes, off-center face, hands, blood pressure monitor, and on and on.
That snapping sound is actually one of the more orienting things. Ah yes, you think, it’s Silva calming his mind, which is apparently quicker than most people’s resulting in both extreme intelligence and extreme anger, or so we’re told in a similarly frenetic opening credits sequence with a lot of voiceovers. His mother gave him the bracelet so that he could snap it as a reminder to pause. While that’s nice for Silva, it’s also incredibly annoying for the audience.
On a broad scale, this movie is about counterterrorism efforts and trying to predict the unpredictable. There’s a nuclear substance at large which, if released into the atmosphere, would be like “Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined” and all you need is “a kid with an envelope” on a street corner to release it. A man, Li Noor (the incredible martial arts stuntman Iko Uwais) comes to a U.S. Embassy saying he has the locations of the missing substance but will only give them up in exchange for asylum. So Silva and his paramilitary CIA unit, including Lauren Cohan, Ronda Rousey and Carlo Alban, all quit their jobs and become “ghosts” to take on the extremely dangerous operation of transporting Li 22 miles to a plane that will get him to the U.S. Overwatch is a “higher form of patriotism,” John Malkovich’s director-type opines to no one in particular.
“Mile 22” is one of the more disappointing collaborations between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who also made “Lone Survivor” (a similar assault), the self-aggrandizing “Patriots Day,” and the quite thrilling and underappreciated “Deepwater Horizon.” ”Mile 22” is the first that wasn’t ripped from the headlines. It’s a clear attempt at a franchise, and while this shadowy unit of operatives seems as fair game as any, Silva is a horrifyingly bad character, poorly developed and with no redeemable qualities who only ever seems to be shouting insults at all of his co-workers. They never seem all that fazed by it though. Is Silva just a maniac they tolerate? Did they all realize he’s all bark and no bite? Doesn’t that undermine his character from the get-go?
This is all too bad, because there are genuinely interesting elements about this film, like how at least 50 percent of the humans here, from intelligence officers, to code breakers, to ambassadors, are women. Not that that should be notable, but it is. Also Uwais has one truly stunning action sequence involving a gurney that is not to be missed. But the rest of the action is so obscured you’re not even sure who or what you’re watching most of the time. The only time it slows down is to show some of the most gruesome ways to kill someone that have been committed to screen this year (like how about dragging someone’s neck across the jagged edges of a shattered car window over and over? That one got one of the biggest groans I’ve ever heard from an audience).
The script has a few surprises in store, but it’s all too little too late even at a brisk 90 minutes. For a movie so excited to tell a story about the CIA’s “most highly-prized and least understood unit,” it sure doesn’t do much to ensure you leave any more informed than you were when you sat down.