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On Netflix: SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL (2020)

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SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL
(US - 2020)

Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Sean O'Keefe and Brian Helgeland. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, Michael Gaston, Bokeem Woodbine, Marc Maron, James Dumont, Austin Post, Colleen Camp, Hope Olaide Wilson, Kip Weeks, Brandon Scales, Ayana Brown, Dustin Tucker, Rebecca Gibel, Alexandra Vino. (R, 110 mins)

Mononymous Boston private eye Spenser was the subject of 40 novels by Robert B. Parker published from 1973 to 2011, as well as the inspiration for the 1985-1988 ABC series SPENSER FOR HIRE with Robert Urich in the title role and Avery Brooks as his buddy and partner Hawk, later followed by a trio of 1999-2001 A&E TV-movies with Joe Mantegna and Ernie Hudson. Following Parker's death in 2010, his estate commissioned mystery writer Ace Atkins to continue the Spenser series. Atkins has since written another eight Spenser novels, and it's his second, 2013's Wonderland, that's the basis of the Netflix Original film SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL, a very loose adaptation repurposed as an origin story, using little aside from the character names, incidental details, and the Boston setting, which is probably the biggest reason Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg were attracted to the project. Yes, it's another chance for Wahlberg, in his fifth collaboration with Berg, to indulge in his feckin' "Say hi to your mother for me" act, along with obligatory shout-outs to Dunkin and classic rock bands Boston and Aerosmith.





As the film opens, disgraced Boston cop Spenser is about to be paroled after serving a five-year stretch for beating the shit out of his asshole captain Boylan (Michael Gaston), with whom he was already butting heads when he showed up at his house unannounced to discuss a case and walked in on him in an act of domestic violence against his wife. Ex-boxer Spenser shacks up in Southie with his cranky, fatherly former trainer Henry (Alan Arkin) and has to share a room with Henry's latest protege Hawk (Winston Duke of BLACK PANTHER and US). It's a temporary arrangement, as he just wants to leave Boston behind, get a license to drive a big rig, and move to Arizona with his beloved, elderly dog Pearl (who's giving him the cold shoulder and has bonded with Hawk during her human's five-year absence), but fate intervenes. The next morning, breaking news reports reveal that now-Chief of Police Boylan has been killed and in no time at all, Spenser's former partner Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine) is knocking at the door, checking his alibi. Spenser is persona non grata with all of his one-time colleagues and the first obvious suspect, though Boylan's killer is quickly revealed to be Terence Graham (Brandon Scales), a boy scout of a cop who had drugs and money stashed away in his home and his found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Graham's widow (Hope Olaide Wilson) insists her late husband is being framed and that his suicide was staged, and Spenser isn't buying the official Boston P.D. story either. He's almost instantly nosing around in places he doesn't belong, with an intimidating Hawk as an initially reluctant but soon enthusiastic sidekick as they uncover a tangled web of corruption involving drug trafficking, a shady racetrack land deal, some Aryan Nations assholes in the joint (among them Austin Post, aka Post Malone, really stretching as a guy named "Squeeb"), machete-wielding enforcers, a money-laundering hit man known as Tracksuit Charlie (James Dumont), and a ring of dirty cops that might...wait for it...go all the way to the top.





Co-written by Oscar-winning L.A. CONFIDENTIAL screenwriter Brian Helgeland (his first gig since 2015's Krays biopic LEGEND), SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL doesn't have an original idea in its head, but it's enjoyable-enough formulaic entertainment most of the way, with Wahlberg much more likable here than in his last two Berg films, with the ludicrous, pandering bullshit of PATRIOTS DAY and the abysmal, career-worst MILE 22. He and Duke make a fun team that's eventually joined by his hot-headed, tough-as-nails ex Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger, seemingly patterning her performance on Heidi Gardner's recurring SNL character "Angel, Every Boxer's Girlfriend from Every Boxing Movie Ever"). SPENSER gets some points docked for not giving a national treasure like Arkin something substantive to do, and Berg indulges in way too many classic rock needle-drops: it opens and closes with Boston's "Foreplay/Long Time," Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" plays during some destructive truck crashes and a subsequent shootout (the big rig Spenser drives is called "Black Betty," and the only surprise is that they didn't license Ram Jam), Foreigner's "Feels Like the First Time" blares when Spenser and Cissy have wild sex in a restaurant restroom, and Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline" accompanies a brawl in a cop bar where Spenser is no longer welcome. SPENSER is an OK time-killer that moves fast, is never dull, has a handful of funny lines, and gets dumber the longer it goes on. Spenser's only been away for five years but he has no idea how computers and the cloud work? And don't miss one really hackneyed exposition dump when Spenser uncovers a secret recording made by Graham during a private conversation with Boylan, where Graham engages in the most "I'm clearly wearing a wire" line of questioning you'll ever hear, or later, when the criminal mastermind behind it all Facetimes Spenser and actually says "Be there in one hour...and bring me my drug shipment!" Who talks like that? C'mon, Helgeland. You're smarter than that.


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