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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Spenser Confidential

Director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg collaborate for the fifth time in their first Netflix movie “Spenser Confidential”. Peter Berg’s film is a guilty pleasure update of the belligerent private investigator seen in the 80s tv series “Spenser For Hire”. None of their projects have felt as cheap (doesn’t feel like a Peter Berg film), energetic, violent (in a action comedy sense) and fun as “Spenser Confidential”. Wahlberg is in familiar territory here and his natural charisma lights up the screen. Peter Berg cuts loose to what is his funnest film in years. “Spenser Confidential” is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to do and be and it does exactly that.

It was only a matter of time until Mark Wahlberg, who is still considered a box office draw to make his first Netflix film. The same goes for director Peter Berg, although Berg has directed for the small screen before; just not a full length feature. Netflix seems to be the new trend for actors and directors as they are given free reign of their projects. If a veteran and legendary filmmaker like Martin Scorsese can make a Netflix film and make it successful, then anyone can. 

With it being Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg’s first time on Netflix, what better way to commemorate that; then reuniting for the fifth time after their collaborations on: “Lone Survivor” (2013), “Deepwater Horizon” and “Patriots Day” (both 2016) and “Mile 22” (2018). In their  first three films together, Berg put his frantic visual stamp on stories inspired by real-life tragedies, that he labeled as “The Hero Trilogy”. It was an amazingly done trilogy, that got better and better with each film as they went on. While “Mile 22” was a fictional story, it was an international pedal to the medal action thriller with an appropriately serious tone.

None of their projects have felt as cheap, energetic, violent (in a action comedy sense) and fun as “Spenser Confidential”. Berg’s film is a guilty pleasure update of the belligerent private investigator seen in the 80s tv series “Spenser For Hire”. Like the series that starred Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, “Spenser Confidential” is about a Boston private detective, Spenser (Wahlberg) and his sidekick Hawk (Winston Duke From Jordan Peele’s “US”). 

The characters of “Spenser For Hire” were conceived by Robert B. Parker who wrote a series of 40 novels before his death in 2010. Author Ace Atkins who was selected by Parker’s estate to continue the franchise after Parker died in 2010. Atkins continued the character with eight new novels to date. “Spenser Confidential” is based on the novel “Wonderland” by Atkins. 

Up until now multiple Parker novels have been adapted to film, but they’ve been tailored for the small screen. Network and cable channels ABC, Lifetime and A&E all had their shot at the material. So it’s fitting that this latest Spenser incarnation is given the Netflix treatment and not the big screen.

In this version, Mark Wahlberg’s Spenser is a Boston cop who confronts his captain at his home, and proceeds to beat him within an inch of his life. At Spenser’s trial, the judge asks if he has anything to say. Spenser replies: “Yes. The son of a bitch deserves it”. One of the films many predictable paths we find out later why Spenser has done this. Flash forward to five years later as we find Spenser in prison. If seeing the prison on screen wasn’t obvious enough we get a title card reading: PRISON, because you know the audience is apparently dim witted. 

The great Alan Arkin is a hoot as Henry, a cranky old geezer who runs a boxing/MMA gym and is something of a father figure and mentor to Spenser. He picks up Spenser from prison, and introduces Spenser to his new roommate: the hulking yet sensitive wannabe MMA fighter Hawk. Because it’s one of those movies at first, Spenser and Hawk can’t stand to be in the same room with one another. Of course there’s always and will be a chance this will change as the story develops.

After Spenser’s old captain is killed and the murder is pinned on one of the department’s good cops and loyal family man that Spenser knew from back in the day. Spenser starts sticking his nose in places that it doesn’t belong as becomes a private investigator of sorts. 

Wahlberg is in familiar territory here, playing a rousing tough guy with an essentially good heart. Being such a native of Boston (where the film takes place), that the Dorchester street he lived on during his teenage years makes an appearance in the film. Wahlberg is the definition of Boston charisma. He also has a great on screen rapport with stand-up comedienne Iliza Shlesinger, who steals every scene she’s in as Spenser’s on again and off again girlfriend Cissy. 

She’s tough and takes no sh** from anyone, evident in a scene where she is up against machete-wielding bad guys as she casually tells them, “What, do you work in a Brazilian steakhouse?”. And yes, these baddies favor machetes instead of guns for absolutely no reason that is never explained to us. 

Screenwriters Sean O’Keefe and veteran screenwriter Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River”, “Payback” and “A Knights Tale”) are behind the predictable script that tries to channel the wisecracking spirit of vintage ’80s movies. Inspired by the likes of “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon”, where the hero takes a kicking and keeps on kicking. The problem with the script is that it isn’t as funny as it should have been. The funniest gag coming a scene, where Spenser finds himself in a backyard with a snarling dog and is taken to an extremely hilarious length. 

Berg allows the Walhberg’s natural charisma to define the character and brings out Walhberg’s own persona. “Spenser Confidential” is a comedically violent, rough and tumble, expletive-laden tale that should have been as much a dark comedy as it is a fun buddy action film. 

Director Peter Berg and Mark Walhberg

After sticking to much more serious films the past few years. “Spenser Confidential” feels and looks nothing like a Peter Berg film. Even though he still tries to bring as much energy, commitment and sense of fun, as he cuts loose to what is his funnest film since “The Rundown” with Dwayne Johnson. “Spenser Confidential” is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to do and be and it does exactly that.

GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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