Spenser Confidential Review: Wahlberg being Wahlberg can’t even save this bland action flick
Teaming up for the fifth time in the last ten years, director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg come together for Spenser Confidential, a new Bostonian action romp for Netflix, that attempts to evoke the same feelings as a Michael Bay action flick, but struggles to figure out its own identity.
The film follows Spenser (Wahlberg), a former police officer who is finally released from prison after assaulting his higher-up – Captain Boylan (Michael Gaston). Heading home for the first time in five years, Spenser has plenty of things waiting for him at home. His friend/trainer Henry (Alan Arkin) has a place for him to stay, his ex, Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), is hunting him down to tell him off, and a new roommate named Hawk (Winston Duke) who’s not exactly welcoming of Spenser. However, after Boylan and a fellow officer are brutally murdered on the day Spenser is released, Spenser becomes suspicious that’s something going on and decides to spring into action to uncover and put an end to a major conspiracy happening in the heart of Boston.
While most of Berg and Wahlberg’s collaborations are much more serious and tackle more historical and blue-collar stories, Spenser Confidential attempts to balance seriousness and action/comedy in a similar vein to Berg’s second film – The Rundown. Replacing The Rock with Wahlberg, there’s still some fun aspects to his performance that evoke some of the enjoyable dialogue and personality of Wahlberg’s Dignam in The Departed.
With some great moments like harassing someone at DMV for information, cynically taunting everyone with some very charming line delivery, and making Spenser’s legitimate NEED to find the truth in things a little bit believable, Wahlberg creates moments that are, at the very least, just as good as any of his recent work. There’re even some fun moments with the action as you see him fighting corrupt cops in a bathroom while Sweet Caroline is playing and fend off machete-wielding gang members in a Mexican restaurant.
However, these moments are truly few and far between as the script, direction, and overall tone are all over the place and there’s very little balance or depth. Wahlberg and the rest of cast really make the best of this lackluster script as it jumps back and forth between trying to be a comedic buddy-cop film and a serious cop drama, but never finds a good balance. One second Spenser could be dealing with the fact that many people around him have been hiding things or having a serious conversation with Cissy and then be stuck in a comedic chase with a dog attacking him. There’re no seamless transitions to scenes so the tones and emotions rarely connect from scene to scene. It’s almost like they couldn’t decide how to approach the movie or what to exactly make, so they decided to include everyone’s ideas and it just ends up being a tonal mess.
The pacing is also really terrible, and the film goes on for an eternity because of how much is shoved into this plot. It literally takes an hour for things to feel like they’re going to get going and a plot with as many details and players as this honestly would’ve been better off as a series than a film. Not to mention, all the boxing stuff with Hawk is incredibly pointless and there’s so many moments, like an incredibly awkward and random sex scene in a bathroom, that could’ve just been cut out. Even while Spenser’s insatiable hunger for justice is kind of interesting, there’s really nothing to connect you to him and the rest of the characters can easily be filed under forgettable and cliché.
The performances, overall, aren’t bad, but their either just cliché characters that can’t stand out even with recognizable faces or are just a part of the film’s incredibly predictable storytelling. Bokeem Woodbine is like a mediocre Samuel L. Jackson stand-in and his character’s whole arc is incredibly predictable the second he comes on-screen and it’s not satisfying in the slightest. Honestly, the revelations and “surprises” that Spenser finds in his investigation are very generic and the film loves to make it seem like “new findings” are actually new or surprising. Worst of all, the film really lacks its own personality or identity, even with its Boston location, and it’s truly a mediocre version of dozens of better cop films like Lethal Weapon or The Departed.
Without Wahlberg, well, being Wahlberg, Spenser Confidential would just be an absolute waste of time and is certainly one of Berg and Wahlberg’s most bland films. If it ends up being in your recommended library on Netflix, it’s best to simply skip as there’s much more entertaining and enjoyable movies to watch.