Peter Berg’s latest collaboration with Marky Mark, the most definitely not based-on-a-true-story Mile 22, opens stateside, just outside of Washington D.C., with a daylight CIA raid on small suburban house that’s just stacked with Russian operatives. Marky Mark and his squad scrub the whole place clean with the help of “Overwatch” — an eye-in-the-sky supervisory force led by James Bishop (a crew-cut sporting John Malkovich) — and it’d be safe to assume that this is just another mediocre actioner, dumped by STX in August to try and mop up some of that end-of-summer cash. Then Marky Mark opens his fucking mouth, and you’re transported to a whole new world of campy entertainment. This is, by far, one of the silliest movies of the summer, a bleak and dumb spy thriller that manages to cross into black comedy through no fault of its own. It’s a ton of fun, but not in the way that Berg and company intended it for you to enjoy it.
After that raid, Marky Mark and his Ground Branch crew — Alice (The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan), Sam (Ronda Rousey), and Douglas (Carlo Alban) — head back to the American Embassy in Indonesia, where they’re typically based. It’s there that one of Alice’s sources — an Indonesian cop named Li Noor (The Raid‘s Iko Uwais) — presents himself to the guards at the embassy, claiming that he has a hard drive which holds the location of nine pounds of stolen cesium. He presents the drive to the Ground Branch folks and they discover it’s password-protected and will self-destruct in a few hours if the key isn’t entered. Only Li Noor knows the code, and he wants to be taken stateside before the information on the drive helps to topple the current Indonesian government, who also want the drive for their own benefit. So, Marky Mark and Bishop scramble a cargo plane — which will only be able to land at an airstrip for 10 minutes — and have three hours to get Li Noor across the 22 miles it takes to get there from the Embassy. Of course, everything goes to hell, and our team winds up having to kill their way out of the situation. And what’s this about the Russians maybe compromising the op?
So, yeah, this is sub-DTV action that is, if you’re looking on the bright side, filling a slot that might have been occupied by something worse. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for Rousey, the former UFC and current WWE superstar, and, aside from Marky Mark’s ego being an all-consuming Shatner-style blob, you can see why they pushed her to a supporting role — my audience actually laughed the first time she appeared on screen. She’s not that bad here, but god help her, she is given the worst dialogue of her entire career as a B-movie actress.
“He doesn’t like computer people,” she scoffs at Tony-nominated actress Emily Skeggs after Marky Mark bitches her out for not working hard enough. “Fucking nerds.” She fares better than Cohan, who is saddled with a bizarre subplot about her abusive ex-husband (played by Berg, for whatever reason) and her young daughter. At one point, she, Nicolas Cage-like, spouts off a list of words banned by the app she uses to communicate with her ex-husband and daughter, and it reminds you why our one true God is the best at what he does: he’d find a real way to get into the pathos of that moment, even in the most ridiculous fashion possible. Berg isn’t able to guide her there, but it’s not totally his fault.
The script, by publisher-turned-writer Lea Carpenter, sounds like lobotomized Mamet, full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely fucking nothing, and as a result, Mile 22 is deeply, deeply odd. The problems start early, with Marky Mark’s tics — he’s coded as an autistic savant though the film doesn’t ever have the balls to actually go there — and he snaps at a rubber band “to focus” himself when he starts to rage. And when he flies off the handle, he doesn’t kill people, he monologues to them at length or knocks pieces of cake out of their hands when it’s their birthday (Poor Rousey). Not to mention the film’s saddled with a framing device that sees Marky Mark being debriefed, so he’s content to lecture the audience about the true meaning of “collusion” and about the ugly realities of geopolitics in his stressed-out motor mouth way. The characters make no sense whatsoever, from the top all the way to the bottom, and it’s just tremendously funny all throughout. It’s paced like a screwball comedy, and feels more and more like it the more Marky Mark is allowed to fly off the handle, this being his wackiest performance since The Happening.
Remember when Peter Berg actually used to make good, or at least competent, films? Remember Friday Night Lights or even The Kingdom? What the hell happened to him? Is all of this Marky Mark’s fault (this is the only wholly fictional film the two have worked on, and the possibilities that that allows them don’t seem like an added benefit)? This new Berg, who appeared in the last five years or so, is content to shoot and edit the film as if he were Michael Bay stripped of any concept of rhythm or intelligibility, and it renders most of his action scenes pointless. This is an even worse blunder when you’ve got a tremendous performer like Uwais on your cast list, despite the actor’s best efforts to the contrary. You can see him try to breathe life into these scenes — an added touch of brutality (such as when he scrapes a dude’s neck across the leftover shards of glass left on a broken car windowpane) here, a bit of finesse (like when he’s able to smash an object into a dude’s skull while falling to the ground) there — but Berg’s style is almost totally incompatible with Uwais’ comprehensible choreography. I feel terrible for the people who will be introduced to the Indonesian here, but I’m glad that they’ll be able to seek out the Raid movies so they’ll be able to see the master at work.
Still, there’s something to be said for the entertainment value inherent in a particularly terrible movie like this, and I imagine it’ll rip after a few bong hits or brews. One could theoretically get frustrated with Berg and company for their flippancy, with their rah-rah jingoism, gun fetishes, and thinly veiled sociopathy (our dude wants us to cheer a drone strike on a vehicle while the operator laughs his ass off back at Overwatch HQ), but it’s all obliterated by a thick veneer of camp. Every one of Marky Mark’s rants is the kind of bug-nuts fucking crazy that either you’ll be vibing with it and laughing your ass off, or you’ll be like Malkovich, yelling at him to “stop monologuing, you narcissistic fuck!”
But it’s odd and somewhat fitting that Peter Berg is helping usher in a new genre of Z-Grade scumminess to the modern cinema, alongside guys like Taylor Sheridan. One almost wants to coin a term for the crop of nihilistic, xenophobic actioners that have failed miserably at this in the wake of the 2016 election. Trumpsploitation, perhaps? All I know is that Marky Mark is its patron saint, and Mile 22 is another statue erected in honor of his continued good works.