Director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg putting their collaborative stamp on the Spenser novels (as well as the television show Spenser: For Hire) was always going to go one of two ways. Either their cinematic style would take the character and property in interesting new directions, or their version wouldn’t vibe. Well, Spenser Confidential falls way more into the latter category than the former. As a throwaway Netflix release, this has some mild charms. As a Berg/Wahlberg collaboration, it’s one of their most forgettable. It all adds up to a final product that never really makes a compelling case for its own existence. Sadly, it’s nothing more than instantly forgettable.
The film is a comedic action outing, while more or less functioning as an origin story, as well. We meet Spenser (Wahlberg) right as he’s about to become an ex-cop. Having savagely beaten his Captain (Michael Gaston), Spenser spends five years in prison and plans on leaving Boston for good. Out of the joint, he hopes to move to Arizona and drive a truck, but first he gets roped into helping his out old boxing coach and mentor Henry (Alan Arkin). Henry has a promising new fighter in Hawk (Winston Duke) that Spenser won’t just be training, but rooming with in Henry’s old home. No sooner does Spenser try to get back into the movements of the world does two of his former colleagues turn up dead, including the Captain he beat. Unable to let things just be, especially when he’s initially pegged as a suspect, he recruits Hawk to help out his amateur investigation. Along with Henry and his feisty ex-girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), Spenser just might be able to bring those who did the killings to justice. Berg directs a screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Sean O’Keefe, adapting the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins, who took over writing Spenser stories after author Robert B. Parker passed away. Supporting player include Post Malone (as Austin Post), Marc Maron, Brandon Scales, Bokeem Woodbine, and more. Steve Jablonsky composed the score, while the cinematography is by Tobias A. Schliessler.
There are buddy cop vibes here that work, but Iliza Shlesinger’s scene stealing supporting part is the only thing to really get excited about. She’s got a sass and spark that livens up the picture whenever she’s on the screen. Unfortunately, she’s woefully underserved. Mark Wahlberg is bland and brings nothing new to the character, making him a stock do-gooder. The same goes for Winston Duke, sadly. Alan Arkin does what he’s been doing for years, so that will either tickle you or not. Aside from Shlesinger, no one is bringing anything noteworthy to their characters, and that’s a real shame.
Spenser Confidential only vaguely recalls the classic Spenser character. It’s clear that no one involved cared much about the novels or the show. Peter Berg has said as much in interviews, and it shows (oddly, they’ve also loosely adapted an Atkins book, not a Parker one). Now, that’s not an immediate disqualification, but the dullness of the project is. Berg and Wahlberg have made memorable projects together, like Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor, and Patriot’s Day, but this instead recalls their last collaboration, the miserable Mile 22. It feels largely pointless, even if individual moments are somewhat entertaining.
Now streaming on Netflix, Spenser Confidential offers up a decent way to pass two hours. However, wanting more than that is prudent, considering the talent involved. Berg and Wahlberg are having a lot more fun than they’ve opted to have before, but this is clearly more fun for them than it is for us as viewers. As a diversion on Netflix, it could certainly be worse. However, if it’s planning on starting up a new film franchise for the streaming service, the next installment had better be much stronger. This movie doesn’t begin the new interpretation of the character with a whole ton of promise…
Spenser Confidential is available to stream on Netflix right now.
(Photos courtesy of Netflix)