Wahlberg’s private eye a better fit for television series
Two and a half stars
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Alan Arkin, Winston Duke
Rating: MA 15+
Running time: 111 minutes
Verdict: Soft-boiled crime drama
EX-cop, ex-con Spenser - a Christian name would be superfluous for Mark Wahlberg's archetypal hard man - isn't very smart. Or subtle.
But he's stubborn, handy with his fists and hardwired "to do the right thing."
"Man you get beat up a lot," Spenser's taciturn offsider, Hawk (Winston Duke), observes after reversing through a shopfront window.
"And I've noticed, every time you get your face pushed in, you come back with a little bit more information.
"I'm just saying, I don't think it's a very good tactic.
True dat. And it's the best line in the film.
Spenser's multiplying nicks, cuts and bruises would be funny, if director Peter Berg had pushed his fifth collaboration with Wahlberg just that little bit further. Or tragic, if he let us feel the punches more.
But Spenser Confidential plays it just this side of straight.
The crime comedy opens with a kind of prologue, which explains how its protagonist wound up losing his Boston detective's badge in the first place.
Driving to his superior's house to confront him over corruption allegations, the former boxer stumbles upon an ugly scene of domestic abuse and goes ballistic.
He serves his subsequent five-year sentence "like a man."
Upon his release, Spenser about to head off to a new life in Arizona, when his "victim", Boyland (Michael Gaston), is beheaded in a parking lot.
A stand-up young cop of Spencer's former acquaintance is subsequently framed for the crime. Determined to clear the man's name, Spenser singlehanded takes on the entire Boston police force as well as the nasty assortment of drug dealers and standover men that materialise from the sewers.
Alan Arkin provides a nicely understated comic foil as Spenser's mate and mentor. And there's a sense Iliza Shlesinger's mouthy girlfriend could grow on audiences, over time.
Berg is a seasoned action director.
Born in Boston and raised on action thrillers and crime procedurals, Wahlberg knows this territory like the back of his hand. But it's as if - after issues-based films such as Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day - there's nothing really at stake here for the two men.
Tonally, the Netflix film sits somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Magnum PI.
Since Wonderland, upon which it is very loosely based, is one of almost 50 novels by Robert B. Parker and Ace Atkins to feature the Massachusetts private eye, there's every chance that, should Spenser Confidential be successful, it will become part of a franchise.
And to be honest, episodic TV feels like a more natural fit.
Now screening on Netflix