HomeMovies'Spenser Confidential' Review: Shipping Up to Netflix; Where it Belongs 

‘Spenser Confidential’ Review: Shipping Up to Netflix; Where it Belongs 

Photo Credit: Netflix

Written by Ben Murchison

The pairing of director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg has netted results that are as varied as the tone of their latest movie. After Mile 22 underperformed at the box office, it makes sense that their next project would skip the theatrical release in favor of streaming on Netflix. The pair is strongest when working on something based on actual events where that tone is more or less dictated for them. Unfortunately, their latest, Spenser Confidential is loosely based on characters from Robert B. Parker’s mystery novels (which was adapted into a 1980s TV series), and it seems to struggle figuring out exactly what it wants to accomplish, other than showcase the city of Boston. 

The film follows an ex-cop named Spenser (Wahlberg) as he finishes a five-year prison term, for assaulting his captain. He has a history of involving himself in situations because it’s, “the right thing to do,” and that philosophy quickly keeps him from following through on a plan to become a truck driver in Arizona, in favor of uncovering a conspiracy tied to the murder of the same captain he had gone to prison over. 

The issue is that while most of the movie seems content to be played for laughs, there is some really dark stuff which doesn’t even seem to match up. Usually in an action comedy, the severity of the crime is kept a little more in check, but here, their actions just seem out of place. It’s just odd to see guys beating women or hacking people to death with machetes and then go out of your way to show them being good parents. Pair that with some heavy emotional moments done well by Hope Olaide Wilson (The Fosters), who plays the wife of the officer (Brandon Scales, Patriots Day) framed for murder, and then make one of the FBI agents (Dustin Tucker, Chappaquiddick) eccentric bordering on silly. 

Unlike Mile 22, which packed its action into a condensed runtime of just over an hour and a half, Spenser Confidential runs just shy of two hours, which is entirely too long. Unnecessary MMA training, an extended battle with a German Shepard, and Spenser daydream doodling pointless notes, are just a few examples of time that would have been better spent showing actual detective work from Spenser. Any clues he needs to uncover are too conveniently found. (You know that flashy car that we saw in the security footage? It just happens to be driving by us right now.) Despite that, he takes a long time to put everything together based on the people involved. Everything in the crooked cops plot is paint by numbers, so any entertainment has to rely on the action and the actors involved. 

The cast is a terrific ensemble, and easily the best thing the movie has going for it. Obviously, you know what to expect with Wahlberg, but the lighthearted banter and jokes shared between him and his friends are an underutilized highpoint. Winston Duke (Us) plays Hawk, the aspiring MMA fighter living with Spenser, and Henry (Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method) who owns a gym. That’s not important enough to warrant how much time they spend with it, but that’s how they chose to get these three together. 

Hawk as a soft-spoken giant, has as much backstory as anyone, even though it isn’t explored fully. Henry, meanwhile, is as sarcastic and witty as you would expect him to be, and comedian Iliza Shlesinger (Instant Family) dives headfirst into being a loud and aggressive Bostonian as Spenser’s ex-girlfriend Cissy Davis. Bokeem Woodbine (Queen & Slim) plays Spenser’s former partner Driscoll, which reunites him with Wahlberg for the first time since they worked together on the cult favorite, The Big Hit which was coincidently a film that actually knew exactly what it was from start to finish. 

In terms of action, the majority of it comes at the expense of Spenser’s face as he tries to gather information, which is humorously pointed out by Hawk. There are a few decent brawls set to music from none other than Boston, but they aren’t exceptional, and most sequences are underwhelming or illogical. That’s a theme for everything though. Why wouldn’t the bad guys think to look for Spenser at his ex’s place, or arrest him on assault, theft or destruction of property charges to solve their problem? How did an ex-cop survive in prison for 5 years no matter how good a fighter he is, when people clearly wanted him dead? Why wait until he’s about to be released to send Post Malone’s goon squad after him? Speaking of Malone, based on the trailer you would assume he’s a bigger part of the movie than he really is, but that would have been asking a lot for his film debut. He was fine in his role, but it’s clearly more of an effort to market the movie. 

Everything outside of the performances scream forgettable B-movie, and it just doesn’t do well enough in any aspects to be enjoyable. If the movie is supposed to be a love letter to the city of Boston, it comes up short. 

Spenser Confidential is currently streaming on Netflix.

Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison is a regular contributor for TV and Movies. He’s that guy that spends an hour in an IMDb black hole of research about every film and show he watches. Strongly believes Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be the best show to ever exist, and that Peaky Blinders needs more than 6 episodes per series. East Carolina grad, follow on Twitter and IG @bdmurchison.

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