[Review] ‘SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL’ is a movie your dad’s fine with


Courtney Howard // Film Critic


Rated R, 111 minutes

Directed by: Peter Berg

Starring: Mark WahlbergWinston Duke, Alan Arkin, Bokeem Woodbine, Iliza Shlesinger, Marc Maron, Colleen CampPost Malone, Michael Gaston, Alexandra Vino

Author Robert B. Parker’s original creation “Spenser” spurred eight detective novels, three seasons of a popular 80’s TV show (SPENSER FOR HIRE) and now a mediocre, middling Netflix movie. Director Peter Berg and adapting screenwriters Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland have refashioned their iteration of the fictional character in SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL as an ex-con pushed into the world of private investigation after his former police chief turns up dead under mysterious circumstances. It’s a streaming selection your dad will spot on the home screen (if the algorithm is actually working), click play, take a snooze through the majority, and then wake up during the loud, crashing climax just in time to decree “it was okay.” For all others located in the blast radius of the TV your dad’s watching this on, your enjoyment will vary.

Hot-tempered police officer Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) has finally made it through an interminable five year stint in prison for assaulting his commanding officer, Captain John Boylan (Michael Gaston). The Bostonian ex-con’s plan to start anew includes moving to Arizona, becoming a big rig truck driver, leaving everyone behind with exception of his adorably chill, portly beagle Pearl. But in the meantime, he’s forced to hang out in his old, south Boston neighborhood with curmudgeonly pal Henry (Alan Arkin) while he awaits getting the proper driving certification. Trouble is, he’s got a roommate Hawk (Winston Duke), a boxing trainee of Henry’s, with whom he mixes like oil and water. Hawk is more physically imposing, listens to loud music, eats vegan and steals the heart of Spenser’s beloved pooch.

Spenser’s problems, however, don’t actually get complicated until his former boss turns up dead in an execution style killing on government property. Not only does this make him a – albeit too briefly – suspect, it brings him back into contact with his former partner Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine), who informs him about some shady dealings happening around town. This piques Spenser’s curiosity. Still, it’s not until a well-respected police officer Terrence Graham ( Brandon Scales) is discovered slaughtered that Spenser’s investigative instincts ignite again.

Winston Duke, Alan Arkin and Mark Wahlberg in SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL. Courtesy of Netflix.

With its narrative taken from Parker’s Wonderland, the path Spenser is led down on his discovery of crime and corruption takes convoluted and unnecessarily complex twists and turns. None of them particularly enthralling. Story threads involving suspicious land developers, a mouthy dead female protester (Alexandra Vino), and the injustice dealt a widow and her young son don’t amount to much of a decent, unexpected payoff. The material is subpar, particularly when it comes to the underground journalist (Marc Maron), who might as well have named his paper “The Expository Times” given how many times he’s gifted with expository speech dumps. The filmmakers attempt to incite conflict between Spenser and the goofy FBI agents tailing the bad guys’ criminal activities but that adversarial dynamic awkwardly flails.

Allegedly part of the comedic relief to the onslaught of grit and pulp, Spenser’s ex-girlfriend (Iliza Shlesinger) is shrill and rarely funny since their banter lacks a fiery chemistry. An obnoxiously loud quickie in the men’s room (set to a cringe worthy needle drop on Foreigner’s  “Feels Like the First Time”) also doesn’t add to the silly side of Berg’s picture, of which there is. Scenes like the German Shepard with a seemingly deadly vendetta against Spenser, Hawk’s reiki treatment to realign Pearl’s chakras and Spenser’s diversion tactic, whipping out his phone to show the thugs a picture of his pup (and Berg cutting away to a shot of darling Pearl) are good for some fun and laughs. Plus, there’s some mild hilarity to be had over the filmmaker’s desperate grab for attention casting Post Malone as an inmate named “Squeeb.”

Worst of all, the film does a disservice to the buddy-cop genre with its generically executed version of camaraderie. The pair lacks a “rat-a-tat” style repartee, or anything cuttingly witty to say to each other whenever they’re in conversation. There’s nothing standout about what Duke and Wahlberg do with their time together. There’s a quick homage lifted directly from director  Guy Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which features a far better bickering couple on a stakeout. The reasons behind Hawk’s involvement in Spenser’s case is slight, but does make sense in terms of his character. More so, they never quite get a handle on Duke’s innate presence and charisma. He’s primarily valued for his muscular dominance, which could be fun if the action-driven scenarios properly utilized him. But alas.

For the majority of us non-dads, Berg’s feature is sadly not fun enough to coast by on all the lame soundtrack cues (like playing Boston’s “Foreplay/ Long Time” during a Boston Big House fisticuffs), poorly cut fight sequences and a dull duo at its heart. Yet all that criticism is ignorable to your dad, whose expectations are low enough to accept this as perfectly suitable viewing after his “honey-do” list is completed.

Grade: D+ (for Dad plus whoever else is in the room while he’s watching)

SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL is now streaming on Netflix.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.