Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have done some laudable work together portraying courage in the face of evil and pernicious moral wrongs – ideological, geopolitical, even corporate. In recent years, they’ve paired on the Afghanistan war drama “Lone Survivor,” the oil-rig disaster chronicle “Deepwater Horizon,” and, of course, “Patriots Day,” their dramatization of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Now comes “Mile 22,” which some dubiously vague marketing would have us believe is in the same reverentially noble vein. Not even close. Instead, Berg and Wahlberg deliver a relentlessly paced, addictively slick paramilitary thriller actively catering to fans of gonzo brutality and turbocharged machismo. It’s like Tony Scott fare circa “Enemy of the State,” but with Lauren Cohan (“The Walking Dead”) and Ronda Rousey also admitted into the oeuvre’s boys’ club, and with a you-gotta-try-this taste of some screen mayhem coming out of Indonesia lately. (If you’ve seen and dug the crime import “The Raid,” it’s clear that Berg has, too. No coincidence that its star, Iko Uwais, joins Wahlberg here.)
Wahlberg’s James Silva is the tightly wound, amusingly tactless leader of a special-ops team under the CIA’s purview, but who submit their deniability-friendly “resignations” anytime their ghostly services are required. It’s “Mission: Impossible” without all the physics lawbreaking and self-destructing marching orders. Their latest task: help transport a lethally targeted intelligence source (Uwais) safely out of his volatile homeland (Colombia subs, oddly, for a fictionalized Indonesia) in exchange for critical terror tip-offs.
The 22-mile trip from the US embassy to a departing military plane turns out to be tough going even by the team’s hard-case standards. In what’s ostensibly a diplomatic safe space, Uwais’s martial-artsy cop has to fend off a couple of assassins while handcuffed, in one of the film’s most inventively, insanely savage scenes.
Surprisingly, the movie does manage to squeeze in a decent amount of characterization amid the bullets, bombs, and copious bloodletting. Cohan is the standout, not only projecting a butt-kicking iciness to rival Charlize Theron’s, but also gamely attacking an overreaching story thread about her antagonistic ex (cameo player Berg) guilting her over being an absentee mom. “Deepwater Horizon” alum John Malkovich is a decidedly less natural fit as the unit’s eye in the sky back at operations HQ, but catching him with a bad brush cut is worth the distraction. Oh, and can’t forget the “Make America Great” bobblehead on Malkovich’s monitor. It’s that kind of portrait of heroism.
Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Lea Carpenter, from a story by Graham Roland and Carpenter. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 95 min. R (strong violence and language throughout).Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.