Primed to harsh any buzz you might still be enjoying from the exhilarating international spy high jinks of “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” Peter Berg’s “Mile 22” is an angry, hyperviolent downer of an action flick that is the August blowout-sale of its ilk: loud and desperate.
Mixing obnoxious geopolitical cynicism, fashionable fight incoherence and — still? really? — the fading appeal of Mark Wahlberg in grim-hero mode, the movie feels like Berg in a state of retaliatory cinematic aggression after the lackluster showing of his recent real-life-bravery tales, “Deepwater Horizon” and “Patriots Day.”
The fictional “Mile 22” — another secret-ops saga about last-resort warriors, albeit with none of the escapist appeal of the “Mission: Impossible” movies — is the movie equivalent of being shouted at by your drunk ex-Army dad about how stupid and pointless your taste in popcorn fare is, and why can’t there be more bloody combat scenes with foreigners?
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There really is someone doing an awful lot of shouting in the film, however, and it’s Wahlberg, whose eternally pissy special-forces commando character, Jimmy Silva, won’t shut up about global threats, workplace annoyances, colleague incompetence or — in useless flash-forwards in which Jimmy is getting debriefed/interrogated — the philosophical particulars of an op.
Lea Carpenter’s inanely speechifying screenplay includes Jimmy musing that “An op is a living thing” and “When they have what you need, they know they have the power” — the kind of “duh” moments that should only be answered by a cutaway to a functionary in the corner rolling his eyes.
Wahlberg’s monologues are so noise-polluting and self-consciously performed they’ll make you miss the days when action heroes were tight-mouthed mercenaries whose snarls, fists and derring-do did the talking for them. But they also provoke wonder that an actor who had once carved out a curiously sensitive masculinity on screen has somehow entered an action-spectacle rut that’s chipping away at his star appeal.
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We’re first introduced to the Overwatch team in a servicably gritty opening sequence in which Jimmy and members Alice (Lauren Cohan, “The Walking Dead”), Sam (Ronda Rousey), and Dougie (Carlo Alban) — led off-site by a sweatered John Malkovich surrounded by monitor minions — infiltrate a Russian safe house in a leafy East Coast suburb.
The mission goes sideways and incurs a body count, but two years later the core group is holed up in the U.S. embassy in the turbulent (and fictional) Southeast Asian country of Indocarr, trying to find track down stolen radioactive material, which incurs another barky diatribe from Jimmy about dirty bomb aftereffects that includes — no kidding — references to and photos from John Hersey’s legendary 1946 New Yorker article “Hiroshima.” (Seriously, is there a pop quiz in the closing credits?)
What finally gets us out of the claustrophobically filmed embassy (and, for the most part, away from the moving mouths) is the main mission, which requires Jimmy’s team to transport asylum-seeking Indocarr cop and intel source Li Noor (Indonesian star Iko Uwais from “The Raid” movies) to a waiting plane before he’ll tell them where the missing bomb chemicals are. Lying in wait: seemingly every hired killer in the country, led by an Indocarr diplomat’s head goon (Sam Medina).
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The last 30 minutes are the gauntlet, and while one is grateful for the emphasis on a “package” delivered over dialogue poorly delivered, it winds up being more of the same situationally chaotic approach to mayhem. A street gun battle feels like a poor cousin of the one in “Heat,” while an apartment building standoff is an even poorer “Raid” knockoff. And speaking of “Raid” connections, why have a gifted martial artist like Uwais perform his own choreographed fights if the stammering camerawork and shred-iting undercut his prowess? Shot that way, we could all look like badasses.
Meanwhile, anyone hoping Rousey’s own MMA athleticism would be showcased will have to resort to YouTube videos when they get back home; she’s a forgettable addition. Only Cohan gets a few meaty, wild-eyed noncombat scenes with an unfortunately retrograde subplot about April’s fiery guilt for being an absentee mom tasked with saving the world. So, of course, she must save a young girl in the climactic apartment shootout.
There’s a metaphor for America’s interventionist folly somewhere in that use of a silent Southeast Asian kid left standing in a wrecked home, but Berg and Thompson have something bigger in mind when it comes to hammering home their points. Besides the government-bad/military-good opinions spouted by Wahlberg’s character — reinforced by presidential bobblehead decor (including ones of Obama and Trump) in the Overwatch control center — the movie ends with a twist with multiple intentions: to shock your mission-accomplished dreams, upset your patriotism, lay groundwork for a sequel and even, in one weird touch, to go meta on its brow-furrowed star.
If, in one closing scene, you suddenly think of Andy Samberg’s “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of Wahlberg, I’m 98 percent sure it’s intentional, even if I have no idea why it’s there. Chalk it up to August at the movies. And yet I’d still rather see the charismatic Wahlberg of 10 years ago who inspired Samberg’s imitative homage than the tired weapon-firing crank who’s turned working with Berg into a heroism-movie series with ever-diminishing returns.