Spenser Confidential – Movie Review

Since most of society has been confined to their homes this past week, Netflix viewership will probably skyrocket as if it hasn’t already. So what’s their most recent movie offering for viewers’ pleasure? Spenser Confidential, a Boston crime film that follows Mark Wahlberg as he solves a murder case in dramatic fashion. This movie is helmed by long-time Wahlberg collaborator Peter Berg of Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day. Given the high quality of all three of these movies, this seems like a guaranteed hit for everyone involved, right? Well, sort of. This is a generic action movie that’s full of tropes at the core, but it still manages to be entertaining enough due to the clear enjoyment had by all the actors involved. As the movie goes on it slips more into mediocrity and certain side characters are borderline offensive, but it never becomes any worse than expected from a throwaway Wahlberg/Netflix collaboration.

The movie’s first act is the most enjoyable. We are introduced to Wahlberg’s character, a cop named Spenser, through flashback, where he is shown beating up his chief of police, landing him in prison for assault. The audience catches up with him five years later, where he is finally being released back to Boston with intentions to move to Arizona as a truck driver. However, his plans are interrupted when the murder of the same police chief that he attacked five years ago by a fellow officer catches his eye. Spenser believes that the case is more complicated than the police reports make it seem to be, so he sets out to find the truth along with his new roommate (Winston Duke) and an old friend (Alan Arkin). When all of this was getting developed and introduced, I was enjoying myself. Wahlberg has a certain bravado that makes films like this all the more wild with him in it, and the lighthearted tone made the experience seem like more of a buddy cop comedy than a serious action movie. The actors clearly made this movie just to have some fun on set and the movie is at its best when that is made clear.

Spenser Confidential is one of those films that starts to overstay its welcome at around the halfway point. The plot is unbearably predictable: I knew who the main bad guy would be by the ten minute mark and the movie expected me to be surprised when the reveal comes at the beginning of the last third. The humor also gets worse as the movie goes on–by the end it felt like a Michael Bay film but without as many explosions. The writing is very typical of a mystery/action story of this kind, and anyone who watches other movies will see most of the “twists and turns” coming. To be honest I wasn’t expecting a revolutionary plot here, I just wanted a good Wahlberg action flick to turn my mind off to. But because the humor becomes offensively unfunny and because I became more invested in the eventual sleep I would get than the actual plot of the movie, it didn’t quite check all the boxes I wanted it to.

Acting-wise there’s nothing special here: Wahlberg and Arkin are both good but they’re not enough to bring up the quality of the movie, and Duke isn’t given enough character-wise for him to do anything interesting with the performance. Unfortunately, the performances that stood out like a sore thumb for me were not the incredible ones, but the ones that brought down the quality of the movie. The main culprit is comedian Iliza Schlesinger as Wahlberg’s bossy ex-girlfriend who annoys the audience instead of making them laugh. To be fair, this horrendous character isn’t primarily her fault: it’s the sexist writing of her character that got on my nerves to an extreme extent. She has no actual personality other than how nagging and controlling she is, and other than that she is essentially used as an object for Wahlberg’s affection. Every minute this character was on screen was a minute too long, and the movie would have been better had they either a) given her an actual character that wasn’t the “bitchy ex-girlfriend” or b) excluded her from the movie altogether.

This isn’t an awful movie; honestly, it is perfect for the Netflix streaming platform that it was given. However, if you want a Boston crime movie starring Mark Wahlberg I suggest movies like The Departed or even Patriots Day over this one. Because the movie left such a bad taste in my mouth near the end, the whole movie suffered, but the first half of the movie is what I wanted out of Spenser Confidential. Without spoiling anything, the end of the film teases a sequel, and I don’t see how they could move forward with these same characters and make it interesting. I’d much rather see Wahlberg and Berg start fresh again than revisit this material. As quarantine movies go, there are better choices on Netflix to satisfy the boredom.

I give Spenser Confidential a C.

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