Sometimes I find myself asking why I watched a certain movie in the first place.
In the case of SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL (2020), a Netflix original movie which premiered earlier this year, it’s based on the series of Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker, or at least the characters are anyway, and it also stars Mark Wahlberg in the lead as Spenser. Now, Wahblerg has his detractors, mostly based on things he’s done in his personal life, but as an actor, he’s kinda been a guilty pleasure for me. The main reason, besides the fact that he can be a very good actor at times, is he simply reminds me of Boston, and having lived there for a large chunk of my life, that’s a good thing. He kind of embodies that whole Boston feel. I watch Wahlberg on screen and I picture myself sitting in the Fenway Park bleachers eating a Fenway Frank and drinking watery beer.
There was also a very good TV show featuring the character back in the 80s, SPENSER: FOR HIRE (1985-1988) which starred Robert Urich and Avery Brooks.
SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL was released back in March, but I kept away from it as word of mouth on it was not very kind. But anyway, for the reasons listed above, I couldn’t keep away forever and finally decided to check it out.
I should have listened to all the naysayers.
When SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL opens, Spenser (Mark Wahlberg), a Boston cop, is going to prison for assaulting his dirty cop police captain. After several years in prison, Spenser is released and moves in with his former boxing coach Henry (Alan Arkin) where he meets his new roommate Hawk (Winston Duke) who is a promising young fighter. On the day Spenser is released, the police captain he assaulted is murdered, and another officer, one who Spenser also knows and believes to be an honest man, is found dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound, with evidence surrounding him implicating him of the police captain’s murder.
Spenser believes this good cop has been framed, and he sets out to solve the case, with his new roommate Hawk helping out when he can.
As plots go, the one for SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL is pretty bad. It’s another of those “all the cops are dirty” storylines, and Spenser sets out to expose them all. Nothing that happens in story is fresh or unexpected.
But the worst part of this one is that SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL tries to be a comedy, and unfortunately, the comedy here just doesn’t work. I found myself hardly laughing at all. The humor is a misfire from start to finish. Early on, for example, in prison, Spenser is surrounded by group of hulking inmates intent on teaching him a lesson. Instead, Spenser turns the tables on them as he goes all Jason Bourne and wipes them all out. It’s a fight scene played for laughs, but it doesn’t really work.
The whole mix of brutal acts by the bad guys and goofy shenanigans of Spenser and company never gels. It’s like watching a dark Martin Scorsese crime film only to have the Three Stooges show up. Actually, this sounds better than anything seen in SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL.
The biggest culprit is the humor just isn’t sharp. It is basically comprised of fight scenes that only go one way, in favor of Spenser and four letter expletives by Spenser as he calls out whatever thing he doesn’t like. The situations really aren’t humorous, and the script isn’t funny either. The screenplay was written by Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland, and Helgeland has a ton of credits, including 42 (2013), MYSTIC RIVER (2003), and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), all fine films, but not comedic ones.
At times, Mark Wahlberg is a really good actor. I’ve enjoyed his performances in such movies as PATRIOTS DAY (2016), THE FIGHTER (2010), and THE DEPARTED (2006). But he’s made a lot of films that I haven’t liked either, films like the TED movies, CONTRABAND (2012), and THE HAPPENING (2008). I can’t say I enjoyed his performance here as Spenser. He’s just sort of playing a variation of his screen persona, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen him do before.
Alan Arkin plays his usual persona as well, and you can see much finer and more comedic Arkin moments on the TV show THE KOMINSKY METHOD (2018-present), in which he co-stars with Michael Douglas.
Winston Duke, who has starred BLACK PANTHER (2018) and US (2019) is amiable as Hawk, but the Hawk in the novels was quite the different character,
Fans of the Robert B. Parker novels will no doubt be disappointed with this movie, since the characters here are quite different and don’t really resemble the ones from the novels.
Even Iliza Shlesinger’s over the top performance as Spenser’s in-your-face Southie girlfriend Cissy doesn’t really work here.
Everything about the humor in this movie is a misfire.
It also suffers from what I call the “Bugs Bunny syndrome.” Everything Spenser does works, and everything the bad guys do fails. Spenser solves the case and saves the day without breaking a sweat. There’s barely any conflict.
Director Peter Berg, who has directed Wahberg in five movies now, doesn’t really capture the Boston flavor with this one. He did a better job capturing the feel of the city in PATRIOTS DAY. I felt like this story could have happened anywhere.
Ultimately, SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL plays like a weak comedy action buddy movie, tailored for the onscreen persona of Mark Wahlberg, and it is simply nowhere near as good as some of Wahlberg’s better movies. It’s also a horrible introduction to the Spenser character. If you want that, read the novels or watch the 1980s TV show.
I won’t be keeping this one in my Netflix queue.