March 7, 2020


Spenser Confidential review - Mark Wahlberg crash lands on Netflix: The actor plays a justice-seeking ex-cop in a clumsy, unfunny adaptation of a much-loved literary crime series (Benjamin Lee, 6 Mar 2020, The Guardian)

It's an action-comedy-mystery-thriller that manages to spectacularly fail at all the above, an algorithmic abomination that's as coldly constructed as it is clumsily made. It's actually surprising just how flat the whole thing is, given that Berg has experience with bigger budgeted films with a more ambitious scope, but there's a deadening lack of spark to his direction here which he tries to hide with lively and recognisable soundtrack choices. The character of Spenser appeared in the 80s in a network show called Spenser: For Hire and one can see this envisioned as a franchise-starter for Netflix, given the wealth of stories from Parker and later Ace Adkins, who took over writing duties. But Berg never once shows us why this should be the case. Spenser is identical to every other wisecracking, punch-throwing, gold-hearted tough guy that we have seen before and the plot he finds himself up against is similarly tired.

It's a dusty, connect-the-dots plot that offers nothing in the way of surprise even if Helgeland, and co-writer Sean O'Keefe, try to include some throwaway references to fake news, gentrification and the opioid crisis. Spenser is paired with wannabe MMA fighter Hawk, a partnership that's built up to be fractious but in actuality is bizarrely easy, the two getting on almost instantaneously, denying us of any quippy conflict. Playing Hawk is rising star Winston Duke, who broke out in Black Panther and then Us, but he's given nothing to do here other than throw the odd punch, a strangely thankless role given how the character played such an integral part in the original Spenser series of books. There's also a sleepwalking Alan Arkin as Spenser's mentor, an unfunny turn from comic Iliza Shlesinger as his ex and Bokeem Woodbine, saddled with a predictably structured turn as his old partner. As Spenser himself, Wahlberg is coasting, sticking to a dog-eared playbook, as bored as we are watching him. A snappier script could have and should have found smarter ways to utilise a talented troupe of actors such as this but instead, they're wasted, unable to lift the pedestrianism of what they're saddled with.

Watched it last night and couldn't bring myself to hate it as much as the critics do.  Even coasting, Wahlberg is too likable to hate and I liked Arkin's turn, even if it was his dentist from The In-Laws grown old.  It's inexplicable though why they even pretend it's a Spenser adaptation.  They make so many changes it's barely recognizable. If anything, it's more like a comic adaptation of Dennis Lehane's detective series.  Of course, just writing Susan Silverman out of the series is service enough to please any fan and it helps not to have Spenser protected by friendly cops, mobsters, spies, girlfriends, foster children, etc, as he was by the end of Parker's run.  In truth, what started as a nicely modernized and Easternized version of the classic p.i. novels was near unreadable by the time Parker passed.  He seemed not to get that the entire point of the genre is that the detective faces overwhelming odds as he is opposed by all of the institutions he runs up against.  Hawk in particular was a terrible character--one most of his successors have borrowed to their own detriment--as he gave Spenser a way to do awful things while not violating his own moral code, a complete cop-out.
On the other hand, when Arnold Schwarzeneger was making really terrible movies he did one where he was a Southern sheriff.  He comes home late on his birthday and his drunken wife (Kathryn Harold) whips his entire cake at him. Arnold, deadpan: "You shouldn't drink and bake."  Can't remember any of the rest of the film, but that line.

Here there's one nearly as good.  Hawk and Spenser are getting ready for the final shoot-out and Hawk takes the shotgun. Spenser tells him he doesn't get the fancy gun.  "Hawk is the name of a [m-fer] with a shotgun.  Spenser is the name of an accountant." Spenser: "Okay, I'll give you that one."  

The tunes are great too.

Posted by at March 7, 2020 7:04 AM