Director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have built quite the relationship over the last few years. The duo has come together to create several critically acclaimed films such as Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day. However, after the lackluster Mile 22, the duo decided to take their talents to Netflix in hopes of creating a franchise for the streaming platform.
Spenser Confidential is the latest effort from Mark Walberg’s Closest to the Hole production. A film is based on Ace Atkins’ novel Wonderland with Wahlberg’s classic Boston seasoning. Those under the age of 35 have likely never heard of Robert B. Parker’s detective novels called “Spenser” or the 1980s TV show “Spenser: For Hire” which Spenser Confidential was loosely based on. You can’t help but wonder if Berg’s and Wahlberg’s chemistry has all dried up.
Wahlberg stars as the protagonist Spenser, an ex-cop fresh out of a five years prison sentence for the assault of his former captain John Boylan. Spenser is ready to leave Boston in his past and move to Arizona to be a truck driver. His plans are thrown out the window when Boylan is brutally murdered and another cop is blamed for his murder. Spenser is forced to investigate the case after he is eyed as one of the top suspects. Spenser enlists the help of his boxing mentor (Alan Arkin), a hotheaded roommate (Winston Duke), and his ill-tempered ex-girlfriend (Iliza Shlesinger) in a desperate attempt to clear their names and solve the case of a massive corruption scandal.
Spenser Confidential has all the ingredients to be a good run of the mill action comedy but screws up chemistry and narrative storytelling. For a film that is based on a novel, much of the 1st act plays out like a book with chapters that are placed out of order. The erratic storytelling begins with a flashback about how Spenser ended up in prison with no context. He later returns home with a city and police force that hates him. Then, the film detours into a crime mystery without establishing any of Spenser’s supporting cast so when they do, the audience is already detached from the central story.
Despite being on the poster as Wahlberg’s partner in crime, Winston Duke’s character of Hawk is under-developed and completely out of place in the film. Hawk is introduced as Spenser’s roommate and an up and coming MMA fighter but that is where the character development ends. As the film processes, Hawk’s character fades out of the story and feels shoehorned in when he returns. They set up character traits for Hawk that never pay off and the lack of chemistry between the two highlights some of the film’s biggest issues in telling an engaging story.
Another out of place character is Iliza Schlesinger’s Cissy who plays a textbook masshole, strong Boston accent and all. Cissy is introduced early on as Spenser’s crazy ex but offers nothing else outside of that plot point. As the story progress, once again Cissy takes a back seat to the plot, disappearing from the film until it’s time for a oddly placed sex scene that offers nothing to anyone invloved. The savior of the film is Alan Arkin who plays a stubborn old boxing coach and Spenser’s only friend. Akrin’s acting is so far ahead of his co-stars, he sticks out like a sore thumb in a good way.
The poor characters are only magnified by a convoluted story. The twists and turns of this “whodunit” are telegraphed far too early in the story leaving little doubt to who the bad guys are. Making the lack of surprise worse, the lack of depth behind our villain’s motivation makes them cartoonish and one note in execution. In a film filled with stereotypes, you would hope that there would be enough fun to match a whacky B movie adventure but Spenser Confidential doesn’t deliver that.
Spenser Confidential is guilty of criminally underutilizing its talent and telling a story that barely seems fit for a run of the mill streaming service.