DIRECTED BY: Peter Berg
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine, Marc Maron, Austin Post, Cassie, James DuMont, Michael Gaston, Colleen Camp, Rebecca Gibel, Big Shug and Donald Cerrone
Spenser, an ex-cop better known for making trouble than solving it, just got out of prison and is leaving Boston for good. But first he gets roped into helping his old boxing coach and mentor, Henry, with a promising amateur. That’s Hawk, a brash, no-nonsense MMA fighter convinced he’ll be a tougher opponent than Spenser ever was. When two of Spenser’s former colleagues turn up murdered, he recruits Hawk and his foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend, Cissy, to help him investigate and bring the culprits to justice.
Spenser Confidential is the latest Netflix Original film that’s loosely based on Ace Atkins novel Wonderland, using the names of characters created by Robert B. Parker and it also marks the fifth collaboration between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg. Disgraced former ex-cop Spenser is released from a five-year stint in prison and learns that on the day of his release, the man that helped put him there, Captain John Boylan, was murdered. The murder is pinned on fellow officer Terrence Graham, who is found dead inside his own vehicle used in Boylan’s murder. Spenser however doesn’t believe the case is as open-and-closed as it appears to be and begins an investigation of his own that leads him down the road of drug traffickers, corrupt cops and a casino project on the Wonderland dog track in South Boston.
Spenser Confidential has a few moments that work really well. There’s a particular scene in which Winston Duke’s Hawk is asked if he’s a good giant by a young kid and wonders if he can fix his bed for him, as the house has been ransacked by the films villains. It’s a small, nice character moment for the character of Hawk. The ensemble at least try to have some fun with the material, with Mark Wahlberg being what you’d expect from Marky Mark in the lead role, what you’d expect from Alan Arkin in the old mentor-type role, to Bokeem Woodbine chewing the scenery (and toothpicks) as Spenser’s old partner Driscoll. One of the supporting roles that really surprised me was Post Malone’s Squeeb, an inmate of the prison in which Spenser was incarcerated at and personally I thought for the screentime that he had, I thought he was decent enough.
With Spenser Confidential, we’re starting to see a pattern on when Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg work on a project together. If they handle material that’s based on true events, then it leads to be at least a good, solid film (Lone Survivor, Deep Water Horizon and Patriots Day). If however, they happen to work on any other material in the action-thriller mould (22 Mile and, now unfortunately, Spenser Confidential), then it tends to be, at the very least, very forgettable. The storyline and its execution are so uninspired that it takes until the films final act sequence at Wonderland for anything kind of memorable to happen and give the film a jolt of flair that the other ninety-odd minutes were missing. The film tries very hard to be funny and most of the time the jokes/attempts of humour don’t really land at all, the music choices in particular will lead to a few eye rolls, from Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ being used for a beatdown in a toilet pub, to Foreginer’s ‘Feels Like The First Time’ being used for a sex scene in a restaurant toilet (there’s a pattern here). The editing here is also just as bad as it was in 22 Mile and not just from the action sequences, which are frustrating to watch due to how them scenes are cut together. There’s just scenes with the characters talking, and the way that they’re edited together (when Cissy arrives at the MMA gym to speak to Spenser, and also when Spenser confronts Driscoll outside his home) is just really choppy for the talent involved. What feels worse than the generic storyline however, is that half of the ensemble feels wasted, from Winston Duke to Marc Maron, and that the film isn’t even convinced on what it wants to be, a crime thriller, a buddy-cop flick, or even an action film, and is tonally a mess overall.
With the talent involved, it’s a disappointment that Spenser Confidential doesn’t work overall as it’s tonally all over the place as it can’t decide what kind of genre film it’s trying to be. It’s the kind of film we’ve seen many times before, but if you just want to have something on in the background to easily digest, then this may work for you. Unfortunately it didn’t for me and if this and 22 Mile is what I should expect from any Berg/Wahlberg collaboration moving forward trying new material, I’ll wait until they adapt a true story project instead.