Mark Wahlberg stars in absurd action-thriller about shadow government operatives

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They're ghosts, the shadow operatives of the U.S. government who quietly keep us safe.  

But it's the script that's missing in "Mile 22," a frantic, brutally violent action thriller that mistakes its incoherence for intrigue. 

"Mile 22" is drunk on its own macho shadow conspiracy nonsense, tossing out so much double speak and inside jargon that it forgets there's an audience out there that doesn't know these people, who they are or how they operate. In a sense, it over-trusts audiences to know what's going on, before first making them care. 

Peter Berg directs, and there's no doubt he knows the tough terrain, which he approaches with his signature on-the-ground, quick-cut docu-drama style. He again teams with leading man Mark Wahlberg, following "Lone Survivor," "Deepwater Horizon" and "Patriots Day," films that were all solid in their masculine, roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-the-job-done reality. Which makes "Mile 22" even more frustrating, since it seems to have been created from spare dialogue snippets and plot twists that wouldn't hack it in the most absurd action fantasies. You'll roll your eyes so much it will give you a headache. 

Wahlberg plays James Silva, a paramilitary operative who heads up a team of shadow agents working for a branch of the CIA that is enrolled in "a higher form of patriotism." (Give me a break.) James was a brilliant kid who was too smart for the room and didn't play well with others, and now he snaps the yellow rubber band on his wrist whenever he gets over-excited and needs to calm himself down. (Note: He snaps it a lot.) Anything else we learn about James is ancillary; he apparently has three failed marriages on his scorecard, a plot point that is tossed out in service of a one line joke. 

Joining James in the field are Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan), Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey) and several other rugged team members, all of whom are referred to as "children." "Mother" is Bishop (John Malkovich in the year's worst hairpiece), who directs them from afar via the safety of a computer screen-filled command center. (It looks like they knocked out all of Malkovich's scenes in a single day.)  

James and his team are working to extract a mysterious figure named Li Noor (Iko Uwais), who shows up outside a U.S. embassy in Southeast Asia carrying a disc that he promises contains vital information that can eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation or something similarly drastic. He demands asylum in America, but after he's detained he proves to be a killing machine whose hand-to-hand combat skills make him like something out of "The Raid" (surprise, Uwais starred in "The Raid" and its sequel). 

The mission -- which involves a 22-mile journey through hostile territory, hence the title -- goes bad. But first-time screenwriter Lea Carpenter's script is worse, the invoking of real life leaders (Presidents Obama and Trump are both heard in news clips) making the supposed reality of the film even more absurd. 

Wahlberg, in particular, plays his tough guy like he's a man without stakes, a guy who's so damn good at his job that he can afford to act like a maniac without ever facing any consequences for his behavior. He talks in circles, just like the movie does, and is the type of movie character who brings up Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy when he needs to make a point about reality.

His comfort level with Berg is a hindrance here; his approach to James should have been reeled way in, but four collabs in, they have a shorthand that supersedes the needs of the project. 

Berg alternates between monologues and mayhem. The action scenes are gritty and gratuitously barbarous -- a character smashes an opponent's head through a window, then rakes his neck back and forth over the shards of glass -- to compensate for the film's lack of substance; a last-minute twist attempts to make reverse-logic of the whole mess but just reeks of desperation. If the super-patriots of "Mile 22" are meant to be ghosts, that's the way they should have stayed. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

'Mile 22'

GRADE: D

Rated R: for strong violence and language throughout

Running time: 95 minutes

 

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