REVIEW: “Spenser Confidential” (2020)


The latest Netflix Original is “Spenser Confidential”, a Boston set crime thriller that starts with some promise but quickly turns into a derivative exercise in formula. Practically everything about it is familiar, and despite Mark Wahlberg’s tough New England charm, it can never shake that ‘been there, done that‘ feeling.

The film is taken from two separate works of fiction. The story is loosely based on the novel “Wonderland” by Ace Atkins. The Spenser character was inspired by Robert B. Parker’s private detective series which spanned a total of forty novels. I’m not familiar with any of the books, but “Spenser Confidential” doesn’t bear the marks of anything unique. It does bounce around the city of Boston, warmly shooting in a number of local areas including the Jones Hill neighborhood where Wahlberg grew up.


PHOTO: Netflix

Peter Berg directs making this his fifth consecutive movie with Wahlberg who plays Spenser, a disgraced Boston police officer doing time for beating the wax out of his crooked police captain (Michael Gaston). After his five-year sentence is up he’s given a place to stay by an old friend Henry (Alan Arkin). Henry has also taken in another ex-con named Hawk (Winston Duke). Spenser and Hawk clash at first but soon reluctantly learn how to get along.

Spenser has his sights set on moving to Arizona and becoming a truck driver, but when the police captain is brutally murdered and a former friend is framed for it he sticks around Boston determined to find out the truth. As you can probably guess, Hawk lends a hand which has led to some people considering this a buddy comedy movie. But to be honest the two ‘buddies’ don’t fully come together until later in the film. And even then there doesn’t seem to be a very strong connection or camaraderie. This is Wahlberg’s movie and Duke just fills in the gaps.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about “Spenser Confidential” is the ‘comedy’ which the movie never seems fully committed to. First off there is very little of it. And when it does come it’s usually out-of-the-blue and out of sync with the flow of the movie. It’s as if there was some odd compulsion to meet some kind of genre requirement. The humor doesn’t work on any level.


PHOTO: Netflix

The movie doesn’t do much to help the supporting cast. I’ve mentioned the woefully underused Duke. Bokeem Woodbine has a few good lines but needed more. Stand-up comedian Eliza Shlesinger does her best as Spenser’s shrill, abrasive ex. She has the charisma but her character turns out to be nothing more than a caricature. Post Malone (who I just learned is a rapper/singer) seems to be there strictly for his tattooed face and definitely not for his acting chops.

“Spenser Confidential” will probably fall into the ‘big dumb fun’ category for many people and I can see that. It has a throwback vibe to it that makes it all pretty easy to digest. But it’s even easier to forget. The movie’s sheer lack of originality and injections of unfunny humor keep it from leaving any kind of lasting impression.



15 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Spenser Confidential” (2020)

  1. Hmmm, somehow I thought this was decent. I actually haven’t seen any Mark Wahlberg movie in a long time, but maybe I’ll give this a shot if it’s on Netflix. Wahlberg is just not a strong actor, always doing the same kind of thing.

    • Ultimately it’s fine. Not too good, not too bad. And this very much feels like Wahlberg doing something you’ve seen him do several times before.

  2. Someone needs to get Mark Wahlberg to do better movies and not work with hacks like Michael Bay or mediocrity like Peter Berg. Plus, shame on Berg for wasting Winston Duke and Alan Arkin.

    • He most certainly wastes Duke and Arkin is more or less phoning it in. Again, not a terrible movie. But nothing that would make you ever want to watch it again.

  3. I feel like the based on true events stories the Berg boys do come out better than ones that are adaptations or straight fictionalizations. Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day I quite enjoyed, but I outright skipped Mile 22 just based on the critical beating it took.

    • 100% with you. I really liked Deepwater and Patriots. Aaaaaand just like you I skipped Mile 22. I’m thinking this one falls somewhere in between those.

      • I may just give this a shot sometime this week. I am more often than not a Mark Wahlberg fan but the guy doesn’t have much range.

  4. Watched this one yesterday and it is another disappointing movie from Berg and Wahlberg. Like you said it was just a strange combination of a detective and comedy, neither of which really work. It all was very random.

  5. I feel like I have to stick up for Peter Berg, not you, but a few of the commenters. Hancock, The Kingdom, Deepwater Horizon were all well done. Not sure how Battleship slipped in there too, but he’s solid with the right material. I have nothing against formula movies if they are done well, a formula becomes a formula because it works. This sounds like it’s passable anyway.

    • It’s passable for sure. And I’m with you on formula films. This one is just so by the numbers. It doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

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