Netflix's Spenser Confidential review: Mark Wahlberg leads a confused mess

Ian Sandwell
Photo credit: Daniel McFadden - Netflix

From Digital Spy

Spenser Confidential is the fifth time that Mark Wahlberg has worked with director Peter Berg, but their first Netflix offering together.

Initially, the idea of an odd couple action-comedy seems like an odd fit for the duo whose previous movies – Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day and Mile 22 – have largely been dour and serious.

But despite the set-up (ex-cop moves in with MMA fighter, they solve crimes together), Spenser Confidential isn't really a knockabout action-comedy in the vein of Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys.

It may have more humour than previous Berg/Wahlberg movies, but ends up a confused mix of gritty crime drama and quirky action-comedy, never fully satisfying as either.

Photo credit: Daniel McFadden - Netflix

Spenser Confidential is a very loose adaptation of Wonderland, one of eight novels about private detective Spenser written by Ace Atkins, following the death of the character's creator Robert B Parker.

Unlike the novel, ex-cop Spenser (Wahlberg) has just got out of prison and while staying with his old boxing coach Henry (Alan Arkin), he gets roped into helping out with aspiring MMA fighter Hawk (Winston Duke).

The problem for Spenser is that shortly after his release, two of his former colleagues are murdered, including Captain Boylan (Michael Gaston), who Spenser assaulted to land himself in prison.

Spenser soon finds himself needing Hawk's help to investigate the case, drawing the duo into a city-wide conspiracy.

Photo credit: Daniel McFadden - Netflix

Early on, it seems as though Spenser Confidential is going for the offbeat action-comedy vibe, with self-aware title cards ("PRISON", it says after several obvious establishing shots), banter about oat milk and Spenser struggling with his dog liking Hawk more now.

The attempts at humour don't all work (Spenser fighting a dog is a lowlight) and needed someone with sharper comedy chops than Wahlberg, yet the prospect is there for a fun Friday-night Netflix watch.

Related: How Spenser Confidential sets up a sequel

But the humour soon sits uneasily with the grim plot that involves machete-wielding gangs, murder in cold blood and a convoluted conspiracy about building a casino that features not just dirty cops but dirty politicians and a media cover-up to boot.

It takes over the movie and makes it feel more like another dour Wahlberg/Berg outing –which would be fine if it was more interesting. Instead, it piles cliché on cliché, as well as an obvious villain reveal, which leaves it feeling stale, like a '90s action movie that's just been unearthed.

Photo credit: Daniel McFadden - Netflix

Add in an extremely irritating ex-girlfriend (a thankless role for comedian Iliza Shlesinger) and Spenser Confidential is a chore to watch at times, with the only curiosity coming from the hope that you'll understand just what tone Berg was aiming for.

However, there is one redeeming feature in the form of the brilliant Winston Duke, who hits the right tone with the dry humour and brings a charisma that is sorely lacking elsewhere. (Alan Arkin, usually reliable, genuinely acts like he'd rather be anywhere other than in the movie.)

It's to the movie's detriment that Duke isn't given more to do throughout. Spenser may be the straight-man of the duo, but he didn't have to be so dull about it.

The finale hints at more adventures to come for Spenser and Hawk if Spenser Confidential is a hit for Netflix, and if we had one piece of advice, it'd be less Spenser, more Hawk.

Spenser Confidential is now available to watch on Netflix.

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