There’s this one extremely brief scene from Olivier Megaton’s Tak3n that has gained a sort of memetic infamy amongst online film circles. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you likely already know what I am referring to. This six-second scene of lead character Bryan Mills hopping a fence, which takes 15 different cuts, all done in awkward shaky-cam-aided close-up and which breaks so many basic rules of scene geography and construction that the result is actually painful to sit through. It’s such a simple action yet, thanks to the absolute shoddiness of the filmmaking involved, it’s also borderline incomprehensible. Much of the rest of Tak3n isn’t better, quite frankly, but it also doesn’t plumb those specific depths of violent incomprehensibility again. If it did, however, you would get Peter Berg’s latest cinematic dog-turd, Mile 22.
Mile 22 is a whole movie of that fence-jumping scene. This is filmmaking that makes post-Pain & Gain Michael Bay – a man so utterly disinterested in his own career by this point that his last film would switch between three different aspect ratios in alternating cuts within the same scene for no discernible reason – look like a competent journeyman director. Mile 22’s editing job breaks new ground in sensory assault as no scene, no matter how short or unimportant it may be, gets by without double-digit amounts of cuts. Mark Wahlberg yelling at a techie will cut to literally every single person present in the room at that instant at least twice, in the same extreme close-up shaky-cam, regardless of whether they need a reaction shot or not.
Overwatch’s base of operations will linger longingly on a shot of a pair of Obama and Trump bobbleheads sat side-by-side but will otherwise switch shots every other second to such a degree that I could not accurately map the layout and blocking of their 10×10 room if you had a gun to my head. Ever wanted to see Iko Uwais try and perform a Raid-style martial arts scene if it were chopped to hell and framed in such a way that one of our best-living martial art actors was damn-near indistinguishable from the random goons he’s fighting? Then has Peter Berg ever made a movie for you!
But it goes beyond just tommy-gun-level cutting. To create some kind of anti-art and craft something truly incomprehensible, as Berg and his two credited editors (Colby Parker Jr. and Melissa Lawson Cheung) do here, you need to go further and, unfortunately for anybody watching Mile 22, they have. Not only does every scene get visually cut akin to when your racist uncle has a near-death experience and sees his whole life flash before their eyes in an instant, they’re also audibly cut so to the bone that they’ve mistakenly sawed through the bone itself. Dialogue runs so rapid-fire that the term rapid-fire undersells the speed with which the film powers through everybody’s lines, frequently having them overlap one another until they become lost in a miasma of monotone snipes and excess profanity.
Vital plot-relevant lines and character info are constantly drowned out by sound effects, the score, other actors, Wahlberg’s unnecessary voiceover, other scenes intruding halfway through. That last one is not a joke or an exaggeration. So many scenes in the first half of this movie are bafflingly ordered and intercut – characters will exit buildings and then re-enter that exact same building in the next shot with no indicator of time passing, Lauren Cohan’s unbaked subplot revolving around a custody battle repeatedly interrupts Uwais’ big fight scene, a digression involving Wahlberg giving out the French Prime Minister’s number appears in between irrelevant plot points for absolutely no reason – like both editors were located on opposite sides of the globe and could only communicate via a tin can and some string.
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You know that bit in Burn After Reading where Palmer and his CIA superior stop the film halfway through to explain the plot so far back to one another because it’s such a mess of contradicting characters and tangled plot threads, and that was the entire deliberate joke of the movie? Mile 22 is forced to do the exact same thing at its halfway mark before they can proceed, as Burn’s own John Malkovich stops the film to explain what Overwatch actually is – an American deniable covert ops group consisting of Wahlberg, Cohan, Ronda Rousey, and Carlo Alban with Malkovich leading the all-seeing surveillance-state support crew – what their mission is – transport a former Indonesian Special Forces officer (Uwais) to a plane out of the fictional South Asian country 22 miles away within 90 minutes and he’ll decode a hard-drive containing the locations of some deadly chemicals – and who the bad guys are – anybody Brown. As you may have gathered, unlike Burn, this was not meant to be a joke and was likely only deliberate because one producer had a brief moment of lucidity and realised their film would be unwatchable without it.
Whilst it’s fun to clown on Mile 22 for being so completely inept at even basic filmmaking competency, the more fundamental aspects of the movie are also barely-watchable repellent tripe. This is like an R-rated SNL parody of 24 with sprinkles of Homeland, including jacking that series’ title sequence wholesale and insinuating that Wahlberg’s character has some kind of mental disorder that’s the source of his skills as a (hysterically inept given the on-screen events of this movie) government agent.
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There’s a fetishism for deniable ops-based warfare, and all of the morally-repugnant baggage that comes with it, that’s extremely uncomfortable to witness. Wahlberg’s ever-present narration is a bunch of loosely-connected InfoWars monologues about how much the American government and public are a bunch of untrustworthy bureaucratic pussies. There’s a running gag regarding a drone operator who really wants to blow up everyone and everything – and you know it’s a joke because everybody in the film laughs which is the only way you know that there are attempts at gags in this thing.
Such total disregard for human life is everywhere in Mile 22. It’s there in the gleeful nature of the body count that the film racks up, as both faceless mooks and random bystanders receive borderline sadistic deaths with prominent visual emphasis on the reg. Main characters are knocked off like we’re watching an unconventional slasher film with a distressing emphasis on their injuries and how much they get knocked around – unless they’re Wahlberg, who is the worst character of the lot yet escapes the film with nary a scratch. But even despite the trauma our cast goes through, including an extremely uncomfortable infantilisation of the two women on the team that’s super misogynistic, it’s impossible to care about any of them. Not because they’re underwritten and scarcely-developed, although that is also true, but because they are just so utterly repellent people to share any length of time with. They’re all amoral, tightly-wound, negging, whiney, antagonistic, homophobic sociopaths who take great pleasure in mass murder, torture, and yelling at anybody who screws up.
The levels of toxic masculinity on display in all of the main cast would single-handedly poison a grizzly bear whose bloodstream consists entirely of AXE body spray, which makes it all the more shocking that the screenplay was penned by a woman, Lea Carpenter. Regressive in its own way that observation may be, but Mile 22’s screenplay really does feel like it was penned by the try-hardiest of 10-year-old boys hopped up on sherbet whose favourite series is Call of Duty and bashed this out in one long night whilst blasting a personal Spotify playlist of late-90s/early-00s Rap-Rock. For just one example, there is one scene that is just Lauren Cohan saying all of the swearwords. All of them, one after the other, completely passionlessly, for no particular reason, because a complete moron thinks that’s approximately how great action movie dialogue works.
Everyone is just so utterly hateable. I’d almost be tempted to call the film a stealth parody of this sort of thing based on the ending twist – which, for the record, achieves the incredible feat of being both incredibly easy to guess ahead of time and completely nonsensical when it does arrive. That maybe we actually were following the villains of this particular story the entire time with the apparent “bad guys” being the real heroes all along, perhaps as a comment on American-centric morality in tales such as these or discussions of foreign policy? Turns out, nah fam, this is meant to be a franchise starter for good old Marky Mark and the film ends with him swearing revenge and the threat that the non-existent third act of this particular movie will arrive in a sequel at some point down the line.
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I’d be offended by this move, both the withholding of anything remotely resembling a conclusion and the fact that anybody involved with this shite assumed audiences would want a second course, if it didn’t mean that this puss-filled shrine to nihilistic far-right machismo dick-waggling blissfully shot its load within barely 90 minutes and sheepishly slinked off before it could ruin my day any further.
Mile 22 is the worst film of a year not exactly lacking in contenders for the worst film of the year. When it is not being abhorrent on both a moral and filmmaking level, it’s being crushingly dull and stealing away precious hours minutes and seconds of a short life better spent on infinitely more pleasurable pursuits. Much like the random 16-year-old boy with no ties to terrorism that our “heroes” murder in the opening scene solely because he’s Russian despite begging for his life, shoot Mile 22 in the head and leave it to die in a ditch.