‘Spenser Confidential’: Mark Wahlberg takes a beating in funny Boston B-movie on Netflix
Playing the Robert B. Parker tough guy, the actor goes for laughs even as he goes for the throat.
Based on the following clues, can you figure out which great American city is the setting for the Netflix original film “Spenser Confidential?”
A.Mark Wahlberg is the star.
B.There’s a cop bar called Sláinte’.
C.The soundtrack includes “Long Time” by Boston and “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith.
D.Red Sox fans sing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway Park.
Netflix presents a film directed by Peter Berg and written by Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland based on the novel “Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland” by Ace Atkins. Rated R (for violence, language throughout and sexual content). Running time: 110 minutes. Streaming on Netflix.
E.When Wahlberg asks his girlfriend what she wants for lunch, she says, “Lobstah” — and we actually see a giant, screen-filling title card proclaiming: “LOBSTAH.”
If you guessed Boston, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!
(If you guessed any other city: Welcome to planet Earth!)
“Spenser Confidential” is the fifth feature collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, after “Lone Survivor” (2013), “Deepwater Horizon” and “Patriots Day” (both 2016) and “Mile 22” (2018).
In the first three films, Berg put his frenetic, sometimes dizzying visual stamp on stories inspired by real-life tragedies. And though “Mile 22” was a fictional story, it was an international thriller with an appropriately serious tone.
“Spenser Confidential,” in contrast, is a violent, rough-and-tumble, expletive-laden tale featuring a gang of villains who favor machetes instead of guns for absolutely no discernible reason — but it’s also as much a dark comedy as it is an action film.
It’s a fantastically over-the-top, drive-in B-movie for the streaming generation.
Like the mid-1980s TV series “Spenser: For Hire” starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, “Spenser Confidential” is about a Boston private detective (that would be Spenser) and his sidekick Hawk — characters conceived by Robert B. Parker for a series of novels.
That’s where the similarities pretty much end. “Spenser Confidential” is based on the novel “Wonderland” by Ace Atkins, who was selected by Parker’s estate to continue the franchise after Parker died in 2010.
In this version, Wahlberg’s Spenser is a Boston cop who confronts his captain at the captain’s home, sees the captain’s wife bruised and bloodied — and proceeds to beat the scoundrel to within an inch of his life.
At Spenser’s trial, the judge asks if he has anything to say. Spenser replies: “Yes. The son of a bitch deserves it.”
Flash forward to five years later. Spenser is in prison. We know this because the title card says: PRISON.
Just before Spenser is to be released, a bunch of goons from the Aryan Nation attempt to carry out a hit against him — but as the aforementioned “Long Time” blasts on the soundtrack, a wisecracking Spenser (“Why you gotta kick me, bro?”) takes the thugs down one at a time.
The great Alan Arkin, who sometimes appears to be looking at something in the distance instead of talking to other actors in his scenes, is a hoot as Henry, a cranky old coot who runs a boxing/MMA gym and is something of a father figure and mentor to Spenser. He picks up Spenser from prison, takes him to his house and introduces Spenser to his new roommate: the hulking yet sensitive wannabe MMA fighter Hawk (Winston Duke.)
At first, Spenser and Hawk can’t stand to be in the same room with one another. There’s a chance this might change as the story develops.
After Spenser’s old captain is killed and the murder is pinned on a good cop and family man Spenser knew from back in the day, Spenser starts sticking his nose in all sorts of places it doesn’t belong. This guy can’t walk into a bar or a restaurant or a bathroom or a nail salon without getting into a brawl.
“Man, you get beat up a lot,” notes Hawk. “I notice every time you come back with your face mashed in, you get a little bit more information. I don’t think that’s a very good tactic.”
Wahlberg is in familiar territory in this action/comedic role, playing a rabble-rousing tough guy with an essentially good heart. (The old standby scene of the hero finding himself in a backyard with a snarling dog is taken to extreme, and extremely hilarious, lengths.)
He also has a great rapport with Iliza Shlesinger, who swipes every scene she’s in as Spenser’s on-and-off girlfriend Cissy, who, upon running up against those aforementioned machete-wielding bad guys, says, “What, do you work in a Brazilian steakhouse?”
We even get Marc Maron wandering in and out of the movie as a cynical journalist who is reluctant to run with a story about widespread corruption because people will just blow it off as Fake News and Post Malone as a fellow inmate of Spenser.
“Spenser Confidential” is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to do and goes about doing exactly that.