Synopsis – When two Boston police officers are murdered, ex-cop Spenser teams up with his no-nonsense roommate, Hawk, to take down criminals.
My Take – While films like The Irishman and Marriage Story had everyone lapping Netflix‘s effort in backing up original films, this month sees the release of a film more in the line of their usual mix.
Based on a series of novels by Robert B. Parker, with this specific film being an adaption of Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland, one of the novels written by Ace Atkins, who penned the series after Parker died, this Netflix original also shares source material with the ’80s TV show called Spenser for Hire.
But what makes this film special is that it also marks the fifth collaboration between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg, who previously worked on excellent films like Lone Survivor (2013), Deepwater Horizon (2016) and Patriots Day (2016), and ruined their excellent run with the despicable Mile 22 (2018). However, considering how all their previous ventures were more dramatic in nature with big budgets dangling above them, this film, right from its trailer, made it clear that this time around, the two shared a sensibility to work on something more relaxed, silly, and simple.
While it might have seemed like a huge win when Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) came on board to pen the screenplay, the end result is nevertheless a little sub-par. Mainly as it doesn’t tread any new waters when it comes to its plot, but then again considering that this is the quintessential Netflix specimen, it is best to accept it for what it is, an easy-to-please turn-off-the-brain slice of entertainment.
While it can be kind of dumb at times, but it is also highly engaging, and never, ever lets up for its entire 111 minute run time. It’s funny and full of good action, clearly a fluff film, and that’s no criticism as even light entertainment has its place.
The story follows Spenser (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-cop with a strict moral code, who ended up spending five years in prison for assaulting a fellow police officer, Captain Boylan (Michael Gaston). With his time served, Spencer decides to leave his home town, Boston, in order to pursue a fresh start in Arizona, and in order to do so he temporarily moves in with his old boxing coach and mentor Henry (Alan Arkin) and his new roommate, Hawk (Winston Duke), a brash upcoming MMA fighter, in order to pursue a trucking license, to facilitate his migration.
However, trouble comes knocking when he find out that Boylan was brutally murdered the same day he was released. While the police look at him as the first suspect, but with a strong alibi and the support of his ex-partner Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine), he is soon in the clear.
But when another cop, an honest one, is found dead via suicide, and is named as the killer, Spencer smells a conspiracy. Recruiting a motley crew of helpers that include Henry, Hawk and his foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend, Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), to help him investigate, Spencer makes it his duty to discover the truth and bring the culprits to justice.
The aesthetic here is simple yet potent. The mystery, as adapted, is fairly straightforward and delivers no real surprises in its paint by numbers plot. Yet, the film personally kept me gripped, as it was nice to see director Berg and Wahlberg pack away the drama fabrics and go camping in fun action comedy for a change.
Sure, the film is predictable and often cliché with injustice and bad cop business tossed in against an imperfect yet noble duo, which all ends in a big shootout involving heavy machinery, heavier macho talk, and some messy boxing, but on the whole provided entertainment value by the bucket load. The main characters are abundantly likable, loyal to their moral obligations and have a clear notion of right and wrong.
The film is an action/comedy, and even there it leans heavier towards the latter thanks to banter and physical comedy born of Wahlberg getting his ass handed to him several times throughout. While the comedy and relaxed atmosphere do most of the heavy lifting here, the action is on the tamer side with a handful of fights, mostly fist and foot focused.
Sure, there are some head-scratching moments, including a man-versus-dog fight that serves no purpose and an attempt to reach for a sequel when the first one hasn’t been earned. And why does Spenser sometimes write down all his clues, pointlessly circling and underlining words on a notepad like why? This is a film for those who wish to see a lighthearted tale of a hard-knock underdog that doesn’t know when to throw in the towel, one that doesn’t give up in the face of clear adversity.
Surprisingly, the film also manages to land its key emotional beats. There aren’t very many of them, but the scenes featuring Officer Graham’s grieving family are actually quite poignant and tactfully placed amidst all of the slapstick comedy.
The performances here are also pretty good. Mark Wahlberg is no stranger to comedy, and his otherwise tough guy persona serves the humor well as he plays straight man to the nonsense erupting around him. Winston Duke brings his own brand of humor and charisma to a character that otherwise receives little to no development. While, Alan Arkin is a triumph as always, Iliza Shlesinger manages to be the scene stealer as she is hilarious as Spenser’s volatile ex. She is a firecracker filled with attitude and spirit, and as a foil for Wahlberg she’s pretty much perfection.
In supporting turns, Bokeem Woodbine, Marc Maron, Post Malone and Michael Gaston are also good. On the whole, ‘Spenser Confidential’ is a typical action comedy which despite being predictable manages to be a fun distraction.
Directed – Peter Berg
Rated – R
Run Time – 111 minutes