Finding A Lane: Our Review of ‘Spenser Confidential’ on Netflix

Posted in Movies, Netflix, What's Streaming? by - March 06, 2020
Finding A Lane: Our Review of ‘Spenser Confidential’ on Netflix

Sometimes it takes a minute to figure out what lane you are best suited for…

While there’s no denying that the chaotic nature of Spenser Confidential would have left this dying on the vine at a theatrical level, it’s an entertaining enough action/comedy romp where it’s star and producer Mark Wahlberg is so in tune with the source material that he actually could spin this into a moderately budgeted franchise adventure.

Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) – an ex-cop better known for making trouble than solving it – just got out of prison and is leaving Boston for good. But first he gets roped into helping his old boxing coach and mentor, Henry (Alan Arkin), with a promising amateur. That’s Hawk (Winston Duke), a brash, no-nonsense MMA fighter convinced he’ll be a tougher opponent than Spenser ever was. When two of Spenser’s former colleagues turn up murdered, he recruits Hawk and his foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend, Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), to help him investigate and bring the culprits to justice.

Loosely based on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins framed around the character of Spenser created by Robert B Parker; Spenser Confidential is simply trashy action and comedy but it manages to work as it keeps the scales of the action low and it has a leading protagonist who really embraces the nature of the material as the entire thing is never trying to be anything more than comedy laced ‘southy’ white trash action a lot of which he saw firsthand growing up in Boston.

Director Peter Berg has unquestionably done better movies, but his second hand with Wahlberg here that they’ve developed with all the features they’ve done together really does come in handy as they’ve crafted a fun piece of action nonsense that allows you to put your brain in neutral too and just go along for the ride.  As Berg tries to ride on the inspiration and coattails of the Spenser For Hire TV show from the eighties we get some decent storytelling from beginning to end even though it has some focus problems and leans into some pretty A-Typical storytelling tropes.  Even though you expect it; seeing our leading man get into a fight with a bunch of cops in an Irish bar in the middle of Boston is such an obvious cliché, you’re never quite sure if it’s just lazy storytelling or just embracing the no-nonsense nature of the narrative and the character.

The script from writers Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland is tonally all over the map as it’s never quite sure if it’s supposed to be an action comedy or a comedy with some action in it bouncing between being 48 Hrs or Lethal Weapon, and while I know it seems on the outside like there wouldn’t be that much of a difference, trust us when we tell you that there is.  Nothing here is really poorly done, but it’s a little all over the map and only comes down on the right side of the ledger thanks to a solid leading man performance.

Mark Wahlberg works so well here because for all intents and purposes he’s basically gone method here being a wise cracking loud mouth from the south of Boston with a propensity for violence and a strict moral code.  He can carry any kind of movie with his eyes closed which is what he’s basically doing here.  It’s not a bad thing since you can tell that he’s having a fair bit of fun in the process, but it also leads us to not take certain elements of it all very seriously, when really there’s a couple of spots in it all where it could have helped.

Winston Duke was OK as Hawk, not flashy but a very good counterpoint to Wahlberg’s flashy work while Alan Arkin rounds out the trio with his vastly underrated comedic chops.  Ilza Schelzinger, Marc Maron and Bokeem Woodbine round out the ensemble well enough but never to the point that you’re going to be talking about them long after it is done.

Ultimately, Spenser Confidential is the streaming equivalent of empty calories.  You’ll enjoy it in the moment and it will taste pretty good too, but you’ll forget about it as soon as the credits roll and Netflix is asking you what you’d like to watch next.  Wahlberg does enough to keep us engaged but it needs to find a lane if it wants to tell more stories in this vein.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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