Spenser Confidential movie review: Mark Wahlberg’s Netflix film isn’t a good enough reason to stay at home because of the coronavirus
Director - Peter Berg
Cast - Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Schlesinger
Only the least demanding members of the audience will be satisfied by Spenser Confidential, director Peter Berg’s fifth collaboration (in a row) with Mark Wahlberg. It is an obvious attempt by Netflix to create a franchise of its own, as the streamer attempts to corner every niche market imaginable.
This time, Netflix has sets its sights on a sub-genre — Boston crime — that witnessed somewhat of a boom around a decade ago, with hits such as The Departed, The Town, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. Based on a series of novels by Robert B Parker and Ace Atkins, Spenser Confidential is like a cousin to Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher and Jason Statham’s Parker — films about mysterious do-gooders whose adventures are perfectly suited for viewing on domestic flights and in hospital waiting rooms; in both scenarios providing just enough distraction to prevent you from wondering if you’ve contracted the coronavirus or not.
Watch the Spenser Confidential trailer here
Movies like this understand that life is busy, and that one can’t be expected to pay undivided attention to Mark Wahlberg, as he scowls his way through bad guys, and prances about with a swagger that could put Salman Khan to shame. And so they routinely insert clunky exposition, periodically peppered with snappy one-liners and loud action to jolt you out of your slumber.
We meet Spenser, played by Wahlberg with that trademark ‘is-that-dung-I-smell?’ expression on his face, as he pounds a police captain to pulp in his own house. Spenser, a Boston police officer himself, pleads guilty to assault and is locked away for five years, losing his badge and honour. When the police captain is killed the very day Spenser is released from prison, making him the de-facto prime suspect, the former cop goes rogue and launches an investigation that exposes corruption in the highest levels of authority.
He is joined in his mission by his mountainous roommate (played by Black Panther’s Winston Duke) and his old friend Henry (Alan Arkin, as dry as ever). Together, the self-styled Batman, Robin and Alfred conduct stakeouts and foot-chases, infiltrations and busts. It’s all meant to be light-hearted and humorous, but like the dusty paperbacks that it is based on, can’t help but feel outdated and obsolete.
Virtually every element of the film — the writing by Sean O’Keefe and Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland, the cinematography by Berg’s longtime collaborator Tobias Schleissler, and the non-existent music by Steve Jablonsky — feels generic to the point of being lazy. No attempt, for instance, has been made to elevate the material into something more than a dad-thriller.
For a film about police corruption and unchecked violence, Berg restricts the drama to one man and his good intentions. The plot twists are foreshadowed with the subtlety of an incoming locomotive at a small-town railway station, and most attempts at humour fall flat.
This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t achieve what it had set out do -- which leaves us in an awkward position. Can a movie be criticised for lacking in ambition even though it had never promised anything of the sort? It can’t. But can Berg and Wahlberg be pulled up for delivering their least impressive film together? Absolutely.
Spenser Confidential will likely spawn a sequel, especially with Netflix’s new viewership metrics — you need to have seen only two minutes of a film for your curiosity to be counted as a ‘view’ — taken into consideration. But for a service that has already released seven Adam Sandler movies (with five more in the offing) to incredible success, Spenser Confidential genuinely feels like the product of Netflix’s famous algorithmic approach to green-lighting films, and not a decision made by a rational human being.