It’s enough to raise your hopes. Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg back together. A script by Oscar winner Brian Helgeland (L A Confidential). A story based around a private eye created by Robert B Parker (who also brought us TV’s Jesse Stone), a crime novelist who inspired the likes of Dennis Lehane. But your hopes will be dashed to pieces by what is also Wahlberg’s first film for Netflix, Spenser Confidential.
By all accounts the actor was a huge fan of the original TV series, Spenser For Hire, not that his affection shows in this uninspired attempt to launch a new crime franchise. Not surprisingly, Wahlberg is the Spenser of the title, an ex-cop who’s been in prison for attacking his superior Boylan (Michael Gaston). Back home and still refusing to say why he beat up his boss, he sets his sights on becoming a truck driver and moving out of town, to get away from his ex Cissy (Iliza Schlesinger) and his home city of Boston. Until a couple of cops get killed, Spenser sniffs a cover-up and just can’t walk away. With help from roommate Hawk (Winston Duke) and his boxing trainer (Alan Arkin), he’s back to doing what he’s always done – solving crimes in his own bone crushing style and getting beaten up a lot along the way.
To be the buddy movie it wants to be, it needs spark between Wahlberg and Duke and it simply isn’t there – to the point where the strain of trying to create it actually shows. That’s not the only problem. Its efforts to embellish an almost unfathomably complicated narrative with some dark humour and a large helping of gritty violence lack both the wit and the storytelling skills it so desperately needs. Without it, the film doesn’t stand a chance of balancing the tone with the plot, and the end result is a slapdash mixture of horrific murders, emotional fallouts and broad comedy featuring Spenser and the various oddballs whose company he regularly keeps. And, this being Boston, there’s plenty of them, alongside all those stereotypes we expect from the city – corrupt cops, loud angry women – and the usual seedy locations, from bars and nail salons to a dog racing track. But it could be any big city, because we’ve seen it all before and this is a Boston without any character.
That, plus the under-use of Schlesinger as Spenser’s ex – the script only allows her to give a one-note performance – makes it pretty obvious why this latest offering from the Berg/Wahlberg combo was never destined for the cinema, unlike their previous efforts. This is an inauspicious debut, one with few redeeming features, which viewers can casually watch at home and then promptly forget about. Because they will. They may take some comfort and even amusement in seeing Spenser getting his butt kicked over and over again, but it certainly won’t stick in their memory.
It’s patently clear from the final sequences that this is being set up as the start of a new franchise. If so, Berg and Wahlberg will have to do something radical to stop the rot (remember Mile 22?). Cue a re-think.
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Crime, Action, Thriller | Cert: 15 | Netflix Original | 6 March 2020 | Dir. Peter Berg | Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Iliza Schlesinger, Alan Arkin, Brian Gaston.