(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.
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.