“Mile 22” Movie Review

     The gritty action drama, “Mile 22”, the fourth collaboration between director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, explores the international espionage meets black ops genre with plenty of real world sub text, even though the story itself is fictional.  First time scribe, Lea Carpenter, provides the various goings on based on a story by Graham Roland, which takes the viewer into the operations side of an off the radar hit team, but within circumstances that tend to feel all too familiar.  For Wahlberg, who seems to specialize in these types of roles, the proceedings bring back much of the same imagery employed in “Lone Survivor” and “Patriots Day”, only this time the plot devices are the oft used “weapons of mass destruction materials which have fallen into the wrong people’s hands" scenario.  A storyline we just watched a few weeks ago in “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”.

     Nonetheless, Berg moves from scene to scene via a frenetic pace and with razor sharp efficiency.  Melissa Lawson Cheung and Colby Parker Jr. turn in a tightly wound 95 minute edit that never once seems to hold a shot for more than a second.  It’s the kind of film that wants to show you a lot, but knows you’ll stop paying attention if any real exposition delays the arrival of the next action sequence.  Welcome to the video game era of filmmaking.  

     The opening sequence gives us our first taste of James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his team of operatives in action.  As drones bring a watchful eye from the sky, the team hears carefully formulated instructions and intelligence updates from Bishop (John Malkovich), giving the team every advantage as they move closer to their target.  That target happens to be a Russian safe house located in an unsuspecting middle class neighborhood where we are to assume those inside are planning all sorts of atrocities against the United States.  With a perimeter set around the house, two of the team members employ a ruse by knocking on the door and asking for directions.  With sudden and brutal force, the duo, led by Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan), enter the home when the door is answered, followed by others in the team who then sweep for hidden bad guys and look for techno stuff like hard drives and computers.

     As with most operations of this type in movies, not everything goes as planned, as the team loses one of the members, and the order is given to kill all of the occupants inside.  And this is just the tip of the ice berg.  When the team returns to a fictional country’s American Embassy, they immediately begin to grapple with the validity of one of Kerr’s sources who provided the intel on the target.  That source, a local police officer named Li Noor (Iko Uwais), abruptly turns himself in at the Embassy, while carrying what appears to be a hard drive in his hand.  His terms are simple.  The drive, which comically is said to have a mechanism that will automatically self destruct the device in eight hours, contains password protected information on the locations of some kind of radioactive dust that can be used to construct a devastating dirty bomb.  Noor requests to be flown out of the country and into the United States where he will request asylum in exchange for the password to the drive.  Time is, of course, in the essence.  

     The film’s title simply refers to the number of miles between the Embassy and the air strip where the plane awaiting Noor will be located.  And you can bet Silva and his team will have plenty to deal with on the way.  In addition to Silva and Kerr, the team also includes Sam Snow, played by Ronda Rousey who finds herself back within her “The Expendables 3” element, displaying plenty of ability to handle a weapon and match up against the never ending supply of henchmen available to the other side.  And if you have seen “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Raid 2”, then Uwais needs no introduction either, bringing his patented brand of Indonesian marital arts to the already bombastic sequences of gun play, explosions, and killings of all kinds.  In between, we are treated to an endless supply of F words, which seems to be the chosen level of conversation these super spies prefer to engage in, plus the notion that the team’s leader, Silva, is himself a psychopath.  At a minimum, he’s certainly on edge, as is demonstrated by the rubber band he wears on his right wrist that he constantly snaps against his skin throughout the entire film.

     Overseeing all of this is a group of nameless Russians whose scenes are intercut with the action, as well as closeups of Trump and Obama bobbleheads that grace the work stations of the “Mother” team keeping a close eye on our ground operatives.  It’s as if to say the filmmakers view our relationship with Russia as that of being in another Cold War, only this time being fought within a treacherous maze of zeroes and ones as the battle is now significantly more high tech than the bombs and bullets that made up our past fears.  And in similar fashion to popular television shows like “24” and “Homeland”, or even the aforementioned “Mission: Impossible” films, “Mile 22” tells the story of the men and women whose job it is to stop terrible things from happening before any of us could ever imagine it.  Problem is, all of this has been done before, and at a much higher level.  GRADE: C+