A couple of years ago I was intrigued by an announcement that Iko Uwais, the star of Gareth Evans' Raid films, and Ronda Rousey, the onetime mixed-martial-arts champion and "baddest woman on the planet," would be making a film together. You expect a certain kind of film with those names, but with Peter Berg involved as a producer and eventually the director, a somewhat different film, with Mark Wahlberg starring, probably was inevitable. The film first imagined was the sort of martial arts/action epic Uwais is known for, with Rousey as a natural added attraction. The actual product predictably focuses on the Wahlberg character's quirky personality while marginalizing Rousey, but Uwais does get several moments to shine. Wahlberg and Rousey's characters are part of a super special-ops team who in the field are in constant contact with a near-omnipotent remote support team led by a shockingly hirsute John Malkovich. The team is first seen taking out a Russian spy house on American soil, killing all inside including a possibly innocent teenage boy. Before you can ask whether President Trump approved such a thing -- he's acknowledged with a bobblehead doll alongside his predecessors in one scene -- the team is off to south Asia on an apparently related mission. The Russians were and are preparing some sort of mass-casualty chemical attack, but a rogue agent of the mythical land of Indocarr (Uwais) happens to have the info to thwart the attack. That info is heavily encrypted and the disc it's been burned on will become useless unless the U.S. meets the Indocarian's demand for asylum. For whatever reason there's a limited time window for an American plane to land and depart with this Li Noor as a passenger, and our team is tasked with transporting him over the 22 miles from the embassy to the airstrip. This operation pits the sweeping power of the Americans, who can change traffic lights and black out random houses at will, against a determined foe that anticipates every move they'll make.
This sprawling scenario means that gun and car action will predominate, though occasional stops is supposed safe houses and other shelters provide opportunities for close-quarter hand-to-hand action. Uwais has already had his best fight scene by this point, his character having slaughtered a number of assassins in a hospital room while handcuffed to a bed. Only then is the film remotely like what I originally anticipated when I first heard of the Uwais-Rousey project. Rousey, meanwhile, never gets to show off her judo and MMA skills. This has been explained as an attempt to showcase her acting ability, but there's something unconvincing about that, given that Rousey's character is randomly killed off about halfway through the picture without really developing the sort of character arc entrusted to Wahlberg and the actual female lead, Lauren Cohan. When you consider that Rousey's acting has been vigorously criticized by fans of professional wrestling during her time as WWE women's champion, Berg may have decided that less from her would be enough. She didn't miss much by being denied character development by screenwriter Lea Carpenter. Wahlberg's character is talkative, somewhat hyperactive, and plays with rubber bands on his wrist. Cohan squabbles with her ex over contact with their daughter. Yet somehow Berg hoped that we'd want to see Wahlberg reprise his role after this film's sequel-begging end-opening swerve makes him look like a fool. Presumably we should be impatient to see him avenge people we barely knew and cared for less. Or else, like good Americans, we should want to see him kick Russian or Indocarian ass. However, a fight between Mark Wahlberg and Iko Uwais that Wahlberg is likely to win is nothing I'd look forward to. After Mile 22, I could only look forward to it less.