What Went Wrong With… Spenser Confidential?

An image of Boston baked beans to accompany a review of Netflix film Spenser Confidential

Based on Robert B. Parker and Ace Atkins’ “Spenser” books (which I’ve never read) and the Spenser: For Hire TV series (which I’ve never seen), Spenser Confidential is now a TV movie I wish I hadn’t watched. This film is directed by uber-patriotic action hack Peter Berg and it stars purveyor of burgers and inflicter of violent racist assaults Mark Wahlberg. Spenser Confidential is billed as a mystery but the only mystery is why they made it. Tonally, Spenser is all over the place; it’s a “mystery-comedy-thriller” but it fails at every sub-genre. It’s obvious this movie doesn’t know what it is; it fails to make you laugh, it fails to intrigue or thrill you, the contrived plot involving corrupt cops, drug money, and setups is hardly original, and the dull and conventional way that the story is told makes the whole thing uninteresting.

This flick is described online like this: “To unravel a twisted murder conspiracy, a former police detective returns to Boston’s criminal underworld.” but that’s a very misleading blurb. There’s absolutely no twisting or unravelling of anything. And on that note: why is it called “confidential”? This is in no way a private-eye noir and the plot is hardly “hush hush”. This isn’t in the same vein as L.A. Confidential for example, it’s more like a Jason Statham film minus the likeable lead. The character of Spenser is supposed to be a “smart-mouthed tough guy with a heart of gold” but with Wahlberg’s constant facial expression (which is like that of a smacked arse) his likeability-factor goes down the tubes. Co-star Winston Duke plays a UFC fighter sidekick and comic relief, a one-dimensional character that isn’t fleshed-out enough to be particularly funny or engaging. Spenser also stars everyone’s favourite homeless-man-looking, R&B Hip-Popper Post Malone. This movie marks Austin Post aka Post Malone’s debut as an actor but after seeing him “act” you hope it’s his last… he’s a prison inmate but the look behind his eyes suggests otherwise. With two shit rappers turned shit actors in scenes together, you can play a game of judging who’s the shittiest actor and after the film ends, listen to their music and judge who’s the shittiest rapper. I’ll tell you, it’s pretty close.

Aside from the mundane acting, the soundtrack is also appalling with middle-of-the-road music playing every time there’s a new scene: fight + shite rock, UFC ring + shite raps, death + shite soul. “Sweet Caroline” plays during a brawl and “Feels Like The First Time” plays during a post-prison sex scene (oh how clever… not).

Spenser Confidential is like amateur-night at Hollywood. There’s a couple of stock scenes (meeting outside a prison cliché, running through back yards and encountering a dog cliché, the best friend turned bad-guy cliché, as well as tough-guy interrogation and uncovering of clues clichés) and there’s a couple of B-movie flashbacks to boot. There’s also huge titles telling you it’s “Southie” or the nondescript “Prison” but in other locations there’s no titles at all (there is a wannabe joke title “Lobstah” but it’s both unneeded and unfunny – kinda like the film itself). Given that this is supposed to be a comedy, there’s some attempted humour with Spenser not knowing what “the cloud” is and another scene in which a dog bites his balls, but everything is acted, directed, and edited so badly that the comedy never translates to actual laughs.

On a side note, other than his muscles, Mark Wahlberg’s wrinkled, weather-beaten face looks terrible for 48 (he looks more like 58). Regardless of his pumped-up torso or his time-worn face however, Wahlberg doesn’t act any differently here than he usually does. He’s no more ex-cop here than he’s an inventor in Transformers; it’s just Mark being Mark. The movie also stars Iliza Shlesinger as a shouty, gutsy, ballsy girlfriend and Alan Arkin gives another one of his almost-angry, not-serious and not-quite-funny, old-man performances taken straight out of Going In Style. With the film also featuring the likes of Winston Duke, Bokeem Woodbine, and rapper Big Shug, it’s astounding how many minority sellouts jump at the chance of working with an “ex” racist but I guess that’s for another article.

Spenser Confidential is dull, predictable, and cliched. As an action movie, as a thriller, and as a comedy, it stinks worse than a Beantown public toilet. Based on a series of books, this filmic turd is hardly going to kick-start a new film franchise (even though the ending leaves it open for more), it’s just another forgettable Netflix movie and another Berg-Wahlberg collaborative crap-fest. Gone Baby Gone or The Town this is not.

Mark & Spenser.

Writing: 2/10

Directing: 2/10

Acting: 2/10

Overall: 2/10

3 replies »

  1. Spenser: For Hire was one of the coolest shows of its day. Robert Urich and Avery Brooks killed it as Spenser and Hawk, respectively. THIS is NOT that show. THIS seems VERY generic, VERY bland and VERY boring. I’m not going to even bother watching this cause its only “Spenser” by name. Spenser: For Hire is the show that made me fall in love with the Ford Mustang and that was my first and present car since then because of that show. Hollywood has forgotten what made shows like this memorable. It was the actors, their chemistry, their performances and the atmosphere of the show that matched its time. This charlatan movie bears no semblance to the show made popular by its actors and does it no justice. Piss off, movie.

  2. This is a travesty. My mom and I love love LOVE the Spenser books. They are cleverly written with dry humor and no-nonsense crime solving. This Mark Wahlberg nightmare doesn’t even come close to that, and the from what we saw (we could only get through the first 20 minutes) it’s not only not clever, it’s not even true to the characters. Spenser and Hawk meet bc they’re forced to be roomies when Spenser gets out of prison? Huh? I don’t remember Spenser ever being in prison, and he met Hawk when Hawk was someone’s bodyguard during a missing persons case Spenser was investigating.

    I keep trying to think of the term they use when an actor with a lot of money and clout turns a book into a movie JUST so they can star in it even when they aren’t remotely like the character, but I can’t think of it right now. You know, like Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher? Or Katherine Heigl playing Stephanie Plum? Whatever that term is that I can’t think of right now…THAT’S what this Spenser movie is.

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