Mark Wahlberg goes home to the streets of Boston in Spenser Confidential, a Netflix Original Movie inspired by the late Robert B. Parker’s literary private eye and the 1980s TV series Spenser: For Hire. It’s a competently made vehicle for Wahlberg to once again play a Boston tough guy but the movie itself isn’t thrilling or compelling enough to fully click as a murder-mystery, working marginally better as a buddy flick thanks to Wahlberg’s banter with co-star Winston Duke, who plays his newfound ally, Hawk.Loosely inspired by Ace Atkins’ Spenser novel Wonderland, Spenser Confidential really doesn’t require any previous knowledge of either the books or the TV show to understand it. Even if you do have such knowledge the film makes so many changes to fit Spenser to Wahlberg’s screen persona that it could just as easily not be a Spenser story at all. This film — which reunites Wahlberg with director Peter Berg for the fifth time — follows ex-cop Spenser as he readjusts to life after a few years in prison for assaulting his former commanding officer. No sooner has he returned to South Boston than Spenser learns that very same cop has been executed. Spenser has an alibi but when another cop shows up dead the conspiracy widens. Driven by both his innate curiosity and strong moral code, Spenser quickly gets on the bad side of dirty cops, street gangs, and the city’s power brokers in his pursuit to bring justice. The whole mystery that the movie hinges on has all the stakes of standard ‘80s/‘90s crime thrillers or countless TV procedurals. You can identify exactly whodunit and why from the get-go so you spend the next 100 minutes going through the motions to get to a conclusion that was obvious from Act One. The action scenes are fine if uninspired; the best parts being seeing Wahlberg’s Spenser getting his ass handed to him by various groups of toughs or, in one of the more amusing sequences, a guard dog. Even though it’s firmly established that Spenser is a trained boxer, the use of Wahlberg as a punching bag is a fun recurring gag throughout the film.
While the mechanics of the murder mystery element of Spenser Confidential are formulaic, at least the personalities of the cast help elevate the other aspects of the movie into something a bit more engaging. As Hawk, Winston Duke forgoes the stone-cold delivery made famous by Avery Brooks on Spenser: For Hire in favor of playing him as a giant who eats greens and drinks oat milk, hipster habits totally foreign to Spenser. Duke’s Hawk may be kinder and gentler than his TV predecessor but he also makes the character far more real and accessible than Brooks’ more cartoonish but way cooler incarnation.
Netflix Spotlight: March 2020