No matter how cynical you think a moviemaker can get, director Peter Berg will outdo it, and his new special-ops action mess “Mile 22” manages to be even more opportunistically dismissive of its audience than “Patriots’ Day” — and I didn’t think such a thing was possible.
Like that movie and “Lone Survivor,” this one reteams Berg with actor Mark Wahlberg in tough-talking supercop mode. Here, Wahlberg plays James “Jimmy” Silva, the on-the-ground leader of an elite and super-secret commando team called Overwatch — though it’s so super-secret, most people don’t call it anything, because they don’t know it exists. If that sounds pedantic and repetitive, it’s a close approximation of most of the dialogue in Lea Carpenter’s overly talky script.
Berg shows Overwatch’s standard operating procedure in the prologue, as Silva and his crew try to take down a Russian terrorist cell in an American suburb. Silva’s team is wired to a remote squad watching satellite and drone surveillance, all under the command of a boss code-named Mother (John Malkovich, in scenes he probably shot in a single day). Even so, the mission ends up with one of his crew dead, and the house blowing up. So much for stealth.
Fast-forward 16 months to another mission in a southeast Asian country. (Like the old “Mission: Impossible” TV series, geography is intentionally vague.) Overwatch is searching for some missing cesium, which if let loose on a city could cause Hiroshima-level damage. One of Silva’s team, Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan), has a source with the required information: A former local police officer, Li Noor, who walks into the U.S. Embassy with an encrypted disc that will electronically evaporate in 8 hours unless he gives the code — which he won’t do until he’s on a plane out of the country.
Li Noor is played by Iko Uwais, the dynamically athletic Indonesian martial-arts star who burst into global attention in “The Raid” and “The Raid 2: Redemption.” Uwais, who was one of the film’s fight choreographers, takes over the movie with his ferocious action scenes, like an early bit where he fends off two assassins while handcuffed to a hospital bed. Alas, Berg has no clue how to film Uwais’ fast moves, and chops his scenes into an incoherent bloodbath.
The bulk of the movie is a ticking-clock scenario where Silva, Alice and their colleagues (including MMA star-turned-actor Ronda Rousey) must drive Li Noor through 22 miles of city streets to an airstrip where an American military aircraft will take him to safety. Of course, there are ambushes at every turn, orchestrated by a corrupt local government operative (Sam Medina).
The action, sliced and diced as it is, is interrupted further by Silva’s post-mission debriefing, where he waxes philosophical about Overwatch’s place in the sloppy world of real politics. Berg thinks he’s being topical by putting words like “collusion” in Wahlberg’s mouth, or tossing an image of Donald Trump shaking hands with Kim Jong Un in the opening-credits montage, but such additions just muddy a storyline that was pretty confused already.
Wahlberg, as usual, is portrayed as an indestructible know-it-all who sees all the angles, right up to the idiotic twist ending. Thankfully, even his ego isn’t big enough to have Wahlberg and Uwais battle mano-a-mano, which would have been a comical mismatch — like the time on the ‘60s “Batman” when Bruce Lee (as The Green Hornet’s aide Kato) fought Burt Ward’s Robin to a draw. Uwais deserves a better Hollywood introduction than “Mile 22,” and audiences deserve a less pummeling action experience.
Opens Friday, August 17, in theaters everywhere. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. Running time: 94 minutes.