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‘Spenser Confidential’ doesn’t know what it wants to be

‘Spenser Confidential’ doesn’t know what it wants to be

‘Spenser Confidential’ doesn’t know what it wants to be
March 31
13:00 2020

“You’re in big trouble!”

“For what?”

“You smashed the Riviera through a restaurant!”

Former Boston policeman Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) just got out of prison. While attempting to get back on his feet through the help of his mentor, Henry (Alan Arkin), and his new roommate, the hot-headed fighter Hawk (Winston Duke), someone murders two of his ex-colleagues. Suspecting foul play, the ex-con, ex-cop sets out to investigate a criminal conspiracy that runs from the BPD to the worst gangs of Boston . . .

“Spenser Confidential” is based on a very long-running series of hardboiled detective books by Robert B. Parker, later by Ace Atkins after Parker’s death. The gist of the Spenser character is that he’s an ex-cop turned private investigator in the city of Boston, has a friend in the enigmatic Hawk and solves crimes. Much like “Bloodshot,” I’m not at all familiar with the character.

Right off the bat, even I can tell you this Netflix version is an in-name-only kind of adaptation. Spenser fans will probably be disappointed by how little this one is connected to the rest of the franchise. Rather, this is primarily a vehicle for Mark Wahlberg to kick butt and crack wise. It is also his fifth collaboration with director-writer Peter Berg, having previously worked together on “Lone Survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Patriot’s Day,” and “Mile 22.” I liked “Deepwater Horizon,” quite liked “Patriot’s Day” but hated “Mile 22.” I haven’t seen “Lone Survivor,” but I’ve liked the majority of their movies and had faith they could do a good job together on a buddy cop-mystery-action-thing.

I was half right, I guess.

This movie has some good one-liners, funny needling between the leads and some nice dramatic montages, but it’s otherwise just kind of meh.

Mark Wahlberg’s Spenser is a Mark Wahlberg character, like I said, and somehow comes out on top despite having the living daylights beaten out of him.  He’s funny in parts and is believable as a cocky brawler in the mean streets of Boston. As an investigator, however, he’s not very interesting or all that adept. He just kind of wanders about and accidentally stumbles into shenanigans more than actively finding leads. He doesn’t seem to really know what’s he doing half the time.

The one who really steals the movie is Winston Duke, of “Black Panther” and “Us” fame, as Hawk. While he’s probably not accurate to his literary counterpart, he has probably the best banter with Wahlberg’s Spenser and he can carry the comedy and action pretty well. He may be a hot-headed, aspiring MMA fighter, but he has these softer moments, like when he’s playing with Spenser’s dog, helping a kid clean up his room and figure out the situation with a beleaguered Spenser. There’s actually some touching moments of friendship between the two.

Alan Arkin is also pretty funny as the two’s mentor, Henry, a sardonic boxing coach who doesn’t take any bull. Iliza Shlesinger is fine as Spenser’s girlfriend, Cissy. I liked maybe two of the scenes she was in and there’s a pretty cringy sex scene between her and Spenser, so, eh. Bokeem Woodbine is also fine as Driscoll, a cop friend of Spenser’s whose archetype you’ll immediately figure out right after his introduction. Making his proper film debut, Post Malone does fine in two scenes as Squeebs, a white supremacist inmate “buddy” of Spenser’s.

“Fine.” I keep using that word.

So, what’s not fine?

For one, the editing. There’s a really good moment involving two different funerals, but it falls apart in the action. There’s a lot of quick cuts, negating a lot of the oomph the brawling is supposed to have. Spenser will be grabbing a guy in one second and be halfway throwing him into a fridge the next. When editors are putting together a fight scene, they need to let the scene breathe and make sure to keep all the energy of the blows in, otherwise, the fights will be rendered artificially hyperactive and incomprehensible.

The actual mystery is the biggest blunder — it’s the most generic, overdone and cliche dirty-cops-working-with-ethnic-gangs plot line you could probably come up with. It repeatedly dumps a lot of exposition at the audience, and while there is a payoff, it’s a lot and the way the filmmakers went about it feels like the script is talking down to the audience. It gets annoying fast.

Then there’s the overall tone. As I said, it’s a buddy cop-mystery-action thing, wanting to be all of that. Problem is, the mystery element is flaccid and the action lacking. The buddy cop parts are the best, but it’s not focused entirely on that, so it feels like the movie can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s hard for people to get on board when even the filmmakers can’t make up their minds.

I’ll give the movie this — I wouldn’t necessarily mind more of Wahlberg and Duke’s Spenser and Hawk. The movie may be subpar, yes, but it’s also free and watchable.

If you want a good buddy-cop movie, skip this. There’s Wahlberg’s “The Other Guys” with Will Ferrell,  “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer as well as the phenomenal “The Nice Guys” with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and so many better options. If you want to pass the time, I will concede that there are worse ways to.

Final rating: 2/5

Featured Illustration: Olivia Varnell

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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