Netflix film ‘Spenser Confidential’  KO’ed by shallow, lackluster acting

[Left] Renowned actor Mark Wahlberg takes on the role of officer-turned-convict Spenser, a Boston native, with equally famous co-star, Winston Duke, in Netflix film “Spenser Confidential.” The film debuted on March 6 and is rated R.

In Netflix’s newest release “Spenser Confidential,” Mark Wahlberg plays police officer-turned-convict Spenser — an ex-boxer with a strong Bostonian accent and an inability to keep his nose out of dirty business where he feels like justice must be served.

The movie opens with Spenser getting out of jail, shortly after a celebratory going-home brawl with Squeeb (Post Malone), after serving his five years for beating up his police captain, Boylan (Michael Gaston). The effortlessly witty-with-a-touch-of-asshole comments made to police officers on his way out the door set the tone for Spenser’s character, which, honestly, still harbored a lot of untouched potential for an actor as decorated and talented as Wahlberg. 

The action picks up when Spenser is seen getting in the car with ex-boxing coach Henry (Ace Atkins), who offers him a place to stay post-prison, and almost immediately after, begging him to get out of the parking lot before he’s seen by his quickly approaching on-and-off girlfriend, the all-Boston feisty Cissy Davis (Iliza Shelsinger). After escaping from her view, Spenser goes straight into his plan to become a truck driver in Arizona, where he’ll live a simple, drama-free life with his dog Pearl. 

As predictable as ever, this doesn’t happen, because after Spenser arrives at Henry’s, he meets his new roommate, wanna-be boxer Hawk (Winston Duke), and from their first smug interaction, it’s clear the two will be sidekicks before the film even reaches the halfway mark. Without much surprise from the audience, the drama soon kicks off with the murder of Capt. Boylan, launching the trio into an action-filled plot to figure out the mystery and connect the dots. 

The character development is there, but every scene still feels a bit shallow, like biting your nails for a punchline that everyone is already pretty certain isn’t coming. Even the humor-filled scenes were just barely there in comedic value.

The character of Spenser isn’t new. According to Karen Han’s review on Polygon, the boxer-turned-cop was the brainchild of writer Robert B. Parker and he first appeared in 1973’s crime novel The Godawful Manuscript, which introduced Parker as a Korean war veteran. Hawk later shows up in the fourth Spenser novel, 1976’s Promise Land. Over the course of 40 novels, Spenser keeps readers entertained until Parker died in 2010 and the series was adopted by Ace Atkins, who penned 2013’s Wonderland, the book Spenser Confidential is actually adapted from. An ‘80s television series starring Robert Urich as Spenser, as well as a trio of made-for-TV movies starring Joe Mantegna, also incorporated the character.However, Wahlberg’s version of the character is nothing more than a watered-down knock off of a cliche macho Bostonian cop who is seen fulfilling many common and overused tropes of wildcard cops, and, as if any action movie is complete without it, the screwing-his-ex-in-a-restaurant-bathroom scene. 

In short, the film is watchable, and probably more so if viewers go into it with an already established love of Wahlberg and without any preconceived notions about the historic Spenser character. Entertaining, sure. Worthy of any higher praise — not so much.

“Spenser Confidential” is now streaming on Netflix and is rated R.

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