This review of Spenser Confidential contains minor spoilers.
Anyone craving for some burgers? It’s been a while since I had such tenderness enveloped between two fluffy buns. That salted and buttery chunk o’ meat seared to perfection and darkened to a satisfying degree. “Mmm.” Glorious juice beads dot the yellowed and sultry slice of cheddar like the dewdrops of the morn as the caramelised onions plunge off the edges of that slippery slope right onto your lap. “MMMMM” Marvelous. Simply beautiful, that mess is. I tapped an order into my phone, pondering of the divine sensation that was begging to enter my tastebuds.
At this point, you might be thinking “Wait, what the heck am I reading? Isn’t this supposed to be a movie review?” So, why are we discussing a burger obsession instead of getting to the in-and-outs of a film?
Well, blame the particular dyad who worked on this movie for having tasty names.
Spenser Confidential is Mark Wahlberg’s first Netflix feature and his fifth collaboration with Peter Berg (geddit?), who in the past had worked together on Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, and 2018’s Mile 22 starring Lauren Cohan and Iko Uwais. The film is loosely based on a 2013 novel, Wonderland, which was written by Ace Atkins and derived from a literary series by the late Robert B. Parker. The Spenser series has existed for almost fifty years with a new entry spawning almost every year since its first publication. Parker’s creation also earned a life on the small screen in the 80s with multiple made-for-TV movies and a decently successful series on ABC.
Wahlberg’s version of the character is depicted as an out-of-luck former cop who, in the pursuit of justice, is granted the opposite. Hence, he develops three exes, one in a conventional sense, and the other two being his former role as a cop and as a convict. As in the novels, his first name is never revealed throughout the film and the closest we ever get to a first name is ‘Detective’.
The film opens with Spenser and his partner, Driscoll, played by Bokeem Woodbine, dropping by Captain John Boylan’s home. The dull palette accompanying the scene sets the tone for the rest of the feature. What starts out as a simple questioning turns violent as Spenser notices hints of domestic violence and subsequently beats the captain senseless with a flurry of blows. As such, he is sentenced to do time in prison for his rash actions.
5 years later, Spenser is a free man and he’s about to pack his bags and leave for the lush cactus pastures of Arizona when he hears about the deaths of Boylan and Terrence, another cop that Spenser had worked with during his heyday as an officer. While Spenser expresses his indifference with regard to Boylan, his detective roots get the better of him when he becomes convinced of Terrence’s innocence. He pursues the case and finds himself wrapped up in a chaotic drug war of sorts.
Winston Duke, known for playing T’Challa’s rival, M’Baku, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, dons the muscles as Hawk, a burly MMA dude who becomes Spenser’s roommate in the film. At first sight, both become repulsive at the other’s existence in their shared space but soon become unlikely partners in the hunt for the truth.
I’m gonna cut to the chase right here, Spenser Confidential is a mess. However, when placing it next to my dream sandwich, it’s not a beautiful one. I have no idea where or what the rest of the film truly is as the pieces of the narrative are so choppily edited that it takes another detective unlike Spenser to piece them together. There is no graduality to the plot. Things just happen without much build-up, thus wiping any potential tension, mystery, or character dynamic away.
Take Spenser’s relationship with Hawk for instance. While Spenser was extremely disapproving of the intimidating personality within the house, that sentiment is simply tossed aside as both become buddy cops soon after without any opposition. Any conflict that had the potential to be developed goes”poof” into moth dust. As you cough through the remnants of the chugging film, you are left wondering how the movie travelled from A to L so darn quickly.
One action scene occurring at a Mexican restaurant is paced so hurriedly that I had to rewind the scene three times to absorb the key details as to what was going on. Knife. Stabby stab. Roll over the counter. Block with a pan. Car crashes in. And just like that, the scene ends. All within a matter of seconds. The editing is annoyingly absurd and jarring and does not aid the viewer in seeing what is required to be seen on screen.
Besides, any attempt at hilarity never manages to take off. The air of comedy essentially stays on the world’s longest runway throughout the film as it gets more and more painful to get through the jest and wisecracks. I could sense several moments where it actually tried to push some gears, but in the end, it was just that. A bland, unfunny script that is degraded even further due to Wahlberg’s disastrous lines. Think Transformers: Age of Extinction Wahlberg but slightly more sensible. There are no random Bud-Light-popping-on-alien-spaceship jokes, but the awkward delivery of the smooth talkin’ sleuth is still pretty cringeworthy.
The characters here are cookie-cutter products that exist on a one-dimensional plane. They play right into their tropes and do not add any flavour to the movie. Hip-hop phenomenon, Post Malone, is in this film and he appears in two scenes. However, besides his trademark tattooed face, I can’t remember what he was accomplishing in there at all. Likewise, the rest of the cast aren’t very memorable either. The main villain is revealed halfway but somehow there is no credible or tangible threat in view. Even at the film’s climax, arguably the scene with the most stakes, there’s no sign of peril for our main cast.
I won’t say that all of the filmmaking in Spenser Confidential lacks quality as there are some scenes that are well-shot and designed. Nevertheless, viewing the movie as a whole, I don’t even know whether it is a comedy or a mystery or an action film because Spenser Confidential does not excel at being any one of them. The lines are as blurry as to when I step out of my car on a rainy day and my glasses get all fogged up due to the clash between heat and cold. To quote directly from Posty’s 2019 hit song, the flick did nothing but “Run away… but we’re running in circles.”
So, as I gaze upon the burger that had just arrived at my doorstep thanks to my Grabfood rider, I am reminded that happiness still exists in this world. Unlike this Netflix outing, my burger was dribbled with sauce and an explosion of flavours. It was a true Beautiful Mess with succulent portabellas and eggs. Something that I could fancy and indulge myself in.
It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to see a straight out crappy movie since Fantasy Island and Spenser Confidential fits right into that bill. It’s utterly stupid and senseless on various fronts. Both Bergs were absolute disappointments with their roles that I find it hard to think that there even was a cheek to tease a sequel or potential franchise by its conclusion. Unlike the tasty berg-er I had just purchased, Spenser Confidential is simply plain and lame.
Nonetheless, as much as the movie was a dud, at least I obtained my happy ending. Now, leave me in peace as I chow down on these buns.
Spenser Confidential is streaming now on Netflix.
Spenser Confidential (2020)
If Mark Wahlberg did not bash you up, leaving you bloodied and lifeless within the film’s opening, the rest of the film will. The Bergerification of a beloved detective series will lose you within its senseless plot with shallow characterisations, an unfunny script, and lightspeed editing.