Mark Wahlberg’s first film for Netflix, a charmless little shrug of a caper named Spenser Confidential, evaporates as it is being watched, destined never to be thought of again. It’s regrettable given those included, by director Peter Berg, who has worked with Wahlberg four times earlier, such as on 2016’s criminally underseen Deepwater Horizon, to writer Brian Helgeland. He won the Oscar for his LA Confidential script before getting nominated for Mystic River. It’s also a story based on a private eye created by Robert B Parker, who inspired offense authors like Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben. But it might take a master sleuth to detect any of the pedigree from the finished product.
Wahlberg, slumming it earlier after this year, starring in both a summertime sci-fi thriller and an Oscar-bait play, is Spenser, a Boston cop getting from prison after attacking a colleague he claimed was jagged. He plans to depart the city and the ghosts within it, but it is found killed, he gets sucked into a murky underworld of drugs, violence, and corruption.
It’s an action-comedy-mystery-thriller that manages to fail at all those above, an algorithmic abomination that’s as coldly constructed since it’s clumsily made. It is surprising how flat the whole issue is, given that Berg has experience with more giant budgeted films with a more ambitious scope. Still, there is a loud absence of spark to his direction, which he tries to conceal with lively and recognizable soundtrack choices. The character of Spenser appeared in the 80s at a community show For Hire, and you can see this envisioned as a franchise-starter for Netflix and later. Why this should be the situation, but Berg never shows us. Spenser is like each other wisecracking, punch-throwing tough guy that we’ve seen before, and the plot that he finds himself up against is similarly tired.
It is a dusty plot that delivers nothing in the means of a surprise if Helgeland and co-writer, Sean O’Keefe, attempt to incorporate some references to gentrification fake news and the crisis. Spenser is paired with MMA fighter Hawk, a partnership that’s constructed to become fractious but is simple, the two getting on immediately, denying us of any conflict. Playing Hawk is rising star Winston Duke, who broke out in Black Panther and then Us. Still, he has given nothing to do except throw the odd punch, a strangely thankless role given how the character played such an integral role in the original Spenser series of novels. There’s also an Alan Arkin as the mentor of Spenser, an unfunny turn from Iliza Shlesinger as his ex and Bokeem Woodbine, saddled with a predictably ordered twist as his partner. Wahlberg is coasting, sticking to a playbook, as exhausted as we’re watching him as Spenser himself. A snappier script could have and should have discovered ways to utilize a troupe of actors like this, but instead, they’re wasted, unable to raise the pedestrianism of what they’re saddled with.
It just sorts of sits there, desperately needing a shot of something: humor, style, better action, energy, a lifetime. Spenser Confidential will find an audience by Wahlberg, but this can be soulless bargain-basement material.
Spenser Confidential is currently available on Netflix.