Spenser Confidential – 2020

Director Peter Berg
Screenplay Sean O’Keefe, Brian Helgeland based on the work of Ace Atkins and Robert B. Parker
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine, Marc Maron, Austin Post, Michael Gaston

Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg had created a partnership that has been steady for five films, starting with Lone Survivor. I have seen a few of these, but never reviewed them. The first film seems the best of the lot. Each of the films are above average vehicles for both. They make enough money to warrant more, but there is nothing more challenging here to push either to new heights.

This time the two have teamed with Brian Helgeland to recreate the Wonderland story of Atkins with the characters of Spenser for Hire. The result is not exactly an action comedy classic, but it is good enough for a Saturday night when one is trying to outlast the Coronavirus.

The story kicks off with a retelling of why Spenser (Wahlberg) is a “former” cop who is on his way out of prison. There is a fight, started by a guy named Squeeb (Post) that becomes an ambush. Throughout the fight, Spenser asks repeatedly who paid him for the hit. Squeeb doesn’t tell him right away. It’s pretty clear that we’re going to find out.

First, though, the main suspect, Detective Boylan (Gaston) has been killed himself. Conveniently timed with his release. Spenser’s former partner Driscoll (Woodbine) is fine with his alibi and starts to leave. This doesn’t prevent Driscoll’s new partner from giving Spenser an earful about how bad he is being a cop who is a convict, or something like that. Driscoll pulls the new partner away, you know, because they’re buddies.

Spenser’s new living situation, with his mentor, Henry (Arkin) are less than ideal, but he makes do. This is because his immediate bunkmate is another of Henry’s boxing students, Hawk (Duke). They get along well enough. Add in a slightly crazy ex-girlfriend (Shlesinger) and you have all of the players you need.

The death of a fellow classmate at the academy leads Spenser to begin investigating. One could mention that he’s also training to become a truck driver because his dream of leaving Southie after his conviction to live the dream of driving in Arizona. There is a reason they keep going with that storyline even while he gets deeper into the investigation.

The challenge in remaking the world of Parker’s characters is it would require wrapping it around a mystery of some sort. This is where the story of Wonderland is supposed to come into play. To say this isn’t anyone’s best work is not any surprise. They’re building this for a comfortable action series, not for a work of art.

Berg only tries to keep the mystery going for about half of the film. He then gives it away without ceremony. This isn’t even going through the motions. Duke and Wahlberg are given some buddy moments, but it feels forced. There’s a lot to cram in a three act story, so it feels abridged. Wahlberg also makes himself the butt of some fish out of water jokes, including a decent one regarding “the cloud.” Arkin is Arkin. You know what to expect and he delivers.

The irony in mentioning “bad movies” about cops in Southie while making a film that doesn’t approach any of them could be sweet. Here it just serves to remind the viewer that they might be wasting their time. There is something admirable about Wahlberg bringing everything back to where he lives, but when the movie is not great, there’s no gain.

The action scenes alternate between good and average. The introduction of machetes into the mix should be enough to leave an impression. When half a dozen jump Spenser in a restaurant and nobody lands a blow, it’s just dumb. Maybe give one guy the machete, another a golf club, the next a fire poker, etc…

This film feels like everyone took half a step back. Is this because it was on Netflix? There is no reason to refrain from a few more scenes to make the bad guys harder to detect. Even less a reason for the action to be tamed to the point of Disneyplus.

There is talent on both sides of the lens in Spenser Confidential. It’s kind of a shame there isn’t more evidence of the potential on screen.
(**1/2 out of *****)

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