In what could have been a potential franchise starter loosely based on Ace Atkins’ Wonderland novel in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s fifth collaboration in Netflix’s Spenser Confidential marks an all-time low for both Hollywood veterans. So low that their previous collaboration in 2018’s Mile 22, another failure of a franchise starter looks like a decent movie by comparison.
Here’s what the movie is all about: Ex-Boston cop Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) got out from prison after serving five years for assaulting his captain (Michael Gaston’s John Boylan). He finds himself unexpectedly team up with his roommate, Hawk (Winston Duke) to investigate the brutal murders of two police officers.
In Spenser Confidential, Berg clearly wants to aim both ways: a mystery drama and a buddy comedy that harkens back to ’80s and ’90s action-film template, complete with the obligatory beat-’em-up vibe (think Jack Reacher and you’ll roughly get the idea). Unfortunately, none of them really works. As a mystery drama, Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland’s adapted screenplay is reminiscent of a generic TV-of-the-week that feels like a filler episode than something crucial or engaging worth tuning in. It’s even hard to believe this is actually co-written by Helgeland, the same screenwriter who previously won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in L.A. Confidential (1997) and garnered the same nomination again for Mystic River (2003).
Then, as an attempted buddy comedy, both Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke fail to generate any worthwhile chemistry as two mismatched partners trying to solve a crime. Wahlberg basically rehashed the same old self we used to see him in many movies: a cocky, wisecracking tough guy with a macho swagger. Duke, who made quite an impression in Black Panther and Us, fares even worst as the soft-spoken Hawk, who spends time looking lost as if he’s being forced to take up the role just for the sake of repaying someone’s favour. With their buddy-movie chemistry already a failure, it comes to no surprise that the dialogues are painfully unfunny as well.
As for the rest of the actors, Alan Arkin is sadly wasted here as Spenser’s mentor Henry while comedian Iliza Shlesinger is the least person worth mentioning here as Spenser’s estranged and acid-tongued girlfriend Cissy.
Technically speaking, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see Berg eschews the shaky-cam aesthetics that defined his movies of late with a more clean-cut approach. That means you’ll be able to see what’s going on during the fistfights and shootouts. While it sounds like good news, the overall action setpieces are surprisingly lacking the necessary visceral flair and energy.