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Avoid ‘Mile 22,’ Seek Out ‘Summer of 84’

This weekend support an indie thriller rather than a big budget actioner

Photo caption: Mark Walhberg plays James Silva, a covert operative who has to transport Iko ...

Photo credit: STX Entertainment

Mark Walhberg plays James Silva, a covert operative who has to transport Iko Uwais' Li Noor from an embassy to an airport and through a gauntlet of obstacles in "Mile 22."

This weekend choose the well-crafted indie film "Summer of 84" (playing at Digital Gym Cinema) over the big budget Mark Wahlberg thriller "Mile 22" (playing throughout San Diego).

'Mile 22'

I wish they had a punching bag outside the theater because when I left the press screening of "Mile 22" I wanted to hit something.

I’m an action junkie. I love nothing more than the adrenaline rush you get from the pure kinetic energy of a good action film. But I felt no adrenaline only anger seething through my veins after watching "Mile 22." Although Mark Wahlberg is billed as the star, it’s Iko Uwais I came to see. He’s the brilliant action star of the two Indonesian "Raid" movies.

For "Mile 22" he performed and choreographed fight scenes. Then director Peter Berg threw all the footage in a blender and spit out a sludge that doesn’t allow you to appreciate any of the flavors of the action.

Overcutting is what you do when you have a talentless clod that you have to make look good. Uwais needs no such help, just put him on screen and let him go. You can tell that the fight choreography is clever (Uwais has great moves walking up walls and killer elbow and knee moves), but the way it is shot and cut you could have had Betty White doing the fight and she would have looked good because most shots a mere seconds or frames long so all you have to do is one motion per shot.

I have to confess to a soft spot for Berg because he directed "Very Bad Things," a pitch-black nasty comedy that is one of my favorite films. And he delivered the wildly fun actioner "The Rundown" with the Rock, Christopher Walken, and some deadly pygmy fighters.

But then Berg started to make more "serious" films and his action style became derivative of the fast cut "Bourne" films. But fast cutting does not equal heightened tension or excitement. Just like making Wahlberg’s character talk fast doesn’t necessarily make him smart. After seeing this film I had to run home and watch "The Raid: Redemption" as a palate cleanser.

Maybe "Mile 22’s" trying to reflect Wahlberg’s ADHD character or the chaotic state of the world or maybe Berg got paid by the cut, but whatever is behind this mindlessly frenetic style it destroys what could have been a lean, mean political thriller about getting an asset a mere 22 miles from an embassy to a plane.

This is the third film to come out this summer — "Skyscraper" and "The Meg" being the other two — co-produced by Chinese companies, and all three failing at their genre formulas, which is odd since China produces some spectacularly good genre films. But these recent U.S.-China collaborations just fail miserably at formulas that should be a no-brainer. Although "The Meg" is generating some box office heat this summer.

OK, now that I got that off my chest, I can move on to something that brings me great joy, a smart indie film.

Photo caption: The retro style poster art for "Summer of 84."

Photo credit: Gunpowder & Sky

The retro style poster art for "Summer of 84."

'Summer of '84'

The directing trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell gave us the pop culture pastiche of "Turbo Kid" in 2015. That film reveled in a retro style that made it look like it had actually been made in the 1980s. "Summer of '84" has the same feel and even its ad campaign emphasizes an '80s horror film aesthetic.

"Summer of '84" feels familiar as it mixes elements of "Rear Window," "Stand By Me," "Disturbia" and a tip of the hat to 1980s teen horror films such as "Fright Night." But those are just points of reference for a film that develops a personality uniquely its own.

The story centers on Davey (Graham Verchere), a teenager who gets it in his head that his cheery cop neighbor is a serial killer. He convinces his friends to devote their summer to spying on the guy and gathering evidence. The plot has the premise of "Rear Window" with the kid camaraderie of "Stand By Me."

The filmmaking trio has a great feel for how kids talk and behave. So the young characters are engaging and believable. The filmmakers also know how to gracefully shift from teen coming of age comedy to horror and suspense. And the horrors they depict are not just about the possibility of a serial killer next door but also about emotional and physical violence kids see in their homes between people who claim to love each other.

"Summer of 84" delivers a sense of nostalgia as it spins a tale that mixes equal parts comedy and real-world horror. A small film like this is such an artistic pleasure and a refreshing relief from the empty-headed, big-budget fare that is also competing for your box office dollars this weekend. Support the underdog this weekend and seek out "Summer of 84."

This weekend choose the well-crafted indie film "Summer of 84" (playing at Digital Gym Cinema) over the big budget Mark Wahlberg thriller "Mile 22" (playing throughout San Diego).

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