There’s nothing confidential about the fact that for every movie as quality as The Irishman that Netflix releases, they drop about five as mediocre as Spenser Confidential. Based on the series of novels by Robert B. Parker, later adapted as a television show starring Robert Urich, Spenser Confidential is the kind of movie that you’d be livid spending money to see at the cinema, but you’ll shrug off and forget about five minutes after streaming it. Even Mark Wahlberg, who stars as the titular Spenser, seems bored with the film.
Set in Boston (because where else would a Mark Wahlberg vehicle be set?), Spenser Confidential centers on Spenser, a recently released convict and ex-police officer. Spenser was thrown in jail after assaulting the captain of his precinct, and on the day of Spenser’s release, that same captain is murdered. The murder is pinned on a young trustworthy officer that Spenser knew in the academy, so hardheaded Spenser must rely on his old detective skills to find out who’s really behind the captain’s execution-style murder.
One of the film’s biggest issues is tone. There’s a twisty conspiracy involving a dog race track, drugs, and a Colombian gang that suggests the film has the makings of a solid noir story, but it never commits to the style. Also, as mentioned above, Wahlberg is so clearly phoning it in that no one would ever mistake him for a Phillip Marlowe-type. I think Wahlberg was going for something understated and cool, but he just comes across as half-asleep. The movie also tries to be a buddy cop comedy, awkwardly shoe-horning in Winston Duke as Hawk, an eccentric, animal loving UFC fighter who’s randomly saddled with Spenser, but it never comes up with anything funny.
Thankfully, director Peter Berg at least has the common sense to stage a brawl every 20 minutes or so to keep things lively, and he uses a bright color palette and some kinetic camera work to remind people that he was once the guy that made Friday Night Lights, and the far superior buddy comedy The Rundown. This is Berg and Wahlberg’s fifth film together after Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, and Mile 22, and it proves the pair should stick to films inspired by true stories. For some reason, Berg finds it necessary to show Spenser writing down simple notes like “Who killed John Boylan?” then underlining them three times for emphasis. It feels like a parody of a detective movie at times.
Speaking of a parody, comedian Iliza Shlesinger plays Spenser’s love interest as if she’s trying to recreate Heidi Gardner’s SNL character Angel, Every Boxer’s Girlfriend. She does manage to deliver a funny Batman analogy, one of the only jokes that the movie pulls off, but points deducted for her randomly howling “Go Sox!” during a sex scene. Alan Arkin, Bokeem Woodbine, and Marc Maron all give solid supporting performances, but even they can’t make some of these groan-worthy lines work. If Marc Maron serving as an exposition machine is one of the bright spots of your movie, that’s not great.
Spenser Confidential ends in a way that suggests that those involved hope to make a sequel, and that’s about as baffling as the film’s extended sequence of Wahlberg fighting off a dog. If one wants to watch a movie in the style of Spenser Confidential, they would be better off skipping to the end of the credits and watching whatever Netflix’s algorithm serves up next instead. It’s inconceivable that it’d be as half-baked as this movie. Case closed.