Need a break from all the bad news and feel like watching a buddy cop comedy, complete with slapstick elements? Or are you in no mood for lighthearted nonsense, and want a tearjerker drama about grieving widows, murdered activists, revenge, and the fight against corruption?
What if I told you that you could watch both of them - at the same time?
Enter Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, so good at making movies that can make two at once. The longtime collaborators return to their old stomping grounds, literally. (Henry, played by Alan Arkin, lives on the street where Wahlberg grew up.) The film might be tonally confused, but it consistently puts Boston front and center. Stand-up comedian Iliza Shlesinger, playing Wahlberg’s ex Cissy, hits the Boston accent hard just in case you forget where you are for a moment.
The movie kicks off with Spenser still in prison. Squeeb and Big Boy, played by Post Malone and Cowboy Cerrone respectively, have a violent meet-and-greet with Spenser in the library before he’s released. Cerrone doesn’t have many lines to work with, but he definitely has presence in front of the camera, and looks great in this fake fight. (Or not not so fake—Mark Wahlberg claims Cerrone didn’t really pull his punches.) Here’s hoping Cerrone gets additional acting opportunities.
Once home, Spenser finds Henry has a new tenant, and therefore a new roommate for Spenser—a giant of a man named Hawk, played by Winston Duke. There’s the classic meet-cute conflict of two men who we know will become best friends. In particular, they fight for the affection of a beagle named Pearl. When Wahlberg showers the dog with baby talk it feels as if he’s this close to asking the pup to say hi to her mother for him.
Spenser, who was sent to prison for beating up the police chief, wakes up the morning after getting out to learn that same police chief has been murdered. His old friend from the force, Driscoll, played by Bokeem Woodbine, pays him a visit. Driscoll’s partner verbally abuses Spenser, but Driscoll is gentlemanly and accepts Spenser’s alibi. This sequence takes place with Wahberg shirtless, just in case anyone wondered whether or not the now 48 year old Marky Mark still has his good vibrations. (He does.)
Despite dreams of moving to Arizona and becoming a truck driver—which seems like an extremely un-Mark Wahlberg-esque state and occupation—Spenser finds himself compelled to investigate who murdered the chief. A young officer is found as the supposed victim of suicide, and the murder is pinned on him. Spenser knows the murder-suicide story is a lie, and when he witnesses the grief of officer’s widow, and young son, Spenser puts his Arizona aspirations on hold to investigate.
Meanwhile, at Henry’s gym, Spenser is charged with teaching MMA fighter Hawk how to box. Away from the gym, Spenser begins to chase down leads, and pulls Hawk along for the ride. They pull apart a web of corruption, involving organized crime, dirty cops, and a casino in the making.
Spenser Confidential offers up zero surprises in terms of plot, but it doesn’t seem interested in that route. This is solidly in the turn-your-brain-off entertainment department, and relies on chemistry between characters and solid action for its most successful moments. Several big action set pieces are impressively choreographed. In particular, a fight sequence in a Mexican restaurant makes inventive use of the spike used to hold receipts.
Wayne Dalglish was the stunt coordinator on Spenser Confidential. He has done the fight choreography films like Wonder Woman (2017), Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and Terminator: Dark Fate (2019). The climactic action sequence at Wonderland casino (shot at Raynham Park in Massachusetts), offers up a lot of car smashing glory, a nice one-on-one fist fight, and an opportunity for MMA fighter Hawk to shine as he takes on several machete-wielding bad guys at once.
Spenser Confidential benefits from good performances by Alan Arkin and Winston Duke, and Mark Wahlberg once again does an amazing job of playing Mark Wahlberg, which either works for you or it doesn’t. It will be interesting to see if it will get the sequel it’s begging for in the final scene. While reviews have been pretty weak, it has performed very well for Netflix, coming in as one of the most viewed films daily since its release March 6.