Mark Wahlberg’s first film for Netflix, a charmless little shrug of a caper called Spenser Confidential, is the kind of film that evaporates as it’s being watched, destined never to be thought of again. It’s regrettable given those involved, from director Peter Berg, who has worked with Wahlberg four times before, including on 2016’s criminally underseen Deepwater Horizon, to writer Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for his LA Confidential script before getting nominated for Mystic River. It’s also a story based around a much-loved private eye created by Robert B Parker, one who provided inspiration to crime authors such as Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben. But it would take a master sleuth to detect any of that pedigree in the finished product.
Wahlberg, slumming it before later this year starring in both a summer sci-fi thriller and an Oscar-bait drama, is Spenser, a Boston cop getting out of prison after assaulting a colleague he claimed was crooked. His plan is to leave the city and the ghosts within it but when the cop he attacked is found murdered, he soon gets sucked into a murky underworld of drugs, violence and corruption.
It’s an action-comedy-mystery-thriller that manages to spectacularly fail at all the above, an algorithmic abomination that’s as coldly constructed as it is clumsily made. It’s actually surprising just how flat the whole thing is, given that Berg has experience with bigger budgeted films with a more ambitious scope, but there’s a deadening lack of spark to his direction here which he tries to hide with lively and recognisable soundtrack choices. The character of Spenser appeared in the 80s in a network show called Spenser: For Hire and one can see this envisioned as a franchise-starter for Netflix, given the wealth of stories from Parker and later Ace Adkins, who took over writing duties. But Berg never once shows us why this should be the case. Spenser is identical to every other wisecracking, punch-throwing, gold-hearted tough guy that we have seen before and the plot he finds himself up against is similarly tired.
It’s a dusty, connect-the-dots plot that offers nothing in the way of surprise even if Helgeland, and co-writer Sean O’Keefe, try to include some throwaway references to fake news, gentrification and the opioid crisis. Spenser is paired with wannabe MMA fighter Hawk, a partnership that’s built up to be fractious but in actuality is bizarrely easy, the two getting on almost instantaneously, denying us of any quippy conflict. Playing Hawk is rising star Winston Duke, who broke out in Black Panther and then Us, but he’s given nothing to do here other than throw the odd punch, a strangely thankless role given how the character played such an integral part in the original Spenser series of books. There’s also a sleepwalking Alan Arkin as Spenser’s mentor, an unfunny turn from comic Iliza Shlesinger as his ex and Bokeem Woodbine, saddled with a predictably structured turn as his old partner. As Spenser himself, Wahlberg is coasting, sticking to a dog-eared playbook, as bored as we are watching him. A snappier script could have and should have found smarter ways to utilise a talented troupe of actors such as this but instead, they’re wasted, unable to lift the pedestrianism of what they’re saddled with.
It just sort of sits there, desperately needing an injection of something: humour, style, better action, energy, life. Spenser Confidential will find an audience on Netflix, given Wahlberg’s involvement, but this is soulless bargain basement stuff.
Source: The Guardian