Which creates a conundrum of what is Spenser Confidential?
Simply, it’s the loose adaptation of a novel called Wonderland, directed by Peter Berg. It stars Wahlberg as a former cop who is released from prison after serving five years for assaulting a crooked police captain.
Coming home to Boston, he finds himself embroiled in a citywide corruption racket that involves cops, street gangs and someone named Tracksuit Charlie.
It also stars Winston Duke (Black Panther), Alan Arkin, Iliza Schlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine and Marc Maron.
What Spenser Confidential could’ve been is a cheeky buddy cop mystery caper in the vein of The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or the first Lethal Weapon. OK, it wants to be a Shane Black movie. It’s not a Shane Black movie.
Spenser Confidential is too anaemic to be anything other than a paint-by-numbers bore offering nothing new and trying to skate by on Wahlberg’s charisma alone. And some punch-ups. There are lots of punch-ups.
There are requisite fast-paced action set pieces, a car smashing through a window and earnest dialogue like “because it’s the right thing to do”, but there’s no spark.
Even a commanding screen presence like Duke is reduced to tagging along, given not much to do other than to throw the occasional punch and a bemused look.
You know when a movie is severely underestimating its audience’s intellect when it features the main character scribbling down on his notepad, “Who killed Boylan? Why?”, right next to “dirty cops”. Yeah, we got that.
It’s not as though Spenser Confidential has a complicated plot – it really doesn’t – but it’s emblematic of the movie’s overall assumption that whoever is watching doesn’t want to use their brains at all, other than signalling to their lungs to keep breathing.
If all Spenser Confidential is interested in is to offer an easy viewing experience, then it better be thick and fast with the spectacle or the laughs. It offers neither, nor any sense of tension or jeopardy.
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Wahlberg and Berg are frequent collaborators, having clocked four movies together previously, all of them dramas or action-dramas including Deepwater Horizon and Mile 22.
Berg is a journeyman director who has some comedy in his oeuvre but nothing to really suggest he could pull off the delicate tonal balance required to turn Spenser Confidential into a comedy-thriller. Especially when the screenplay by Sean O’Keefe and Brian Hegleland offers so little substance.
The script is puzzling because Hegleland is a proven scribe whose previous work includes Mystic River and his Oscar-winning screenplay for LA Confidential. In Mystic River, that Boston tribalism is strong and evocative, while LA Confidential is a compellingly plotted corruption drama. Spenser Confidential has both those elements, yet has nothing to say about either.
No doubt Spenser Confidential will find an audience – it’s exactly the kind of movie star-fronted mediocrity Netflix can pump out to its 167 million subscribers around the world with algorithmic success, as it saw with Murder Mystery, 6 Underground and Bright.
(You’re better off choosing one of the more prestige movies Netflix has invested in, such as Dolemite is My Name, Uncut Gems, Marriage Story or The Irishman.)
It has a shiny veneer and almost no barrier to entry – requiring only a rainy afternoon, a mood for something light and the press of the remote – but audiences deserve better than this.
Spenser Confidential is streaming now on Netflix
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