When two Boston police officers are murdered, ex-cop Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) teams up with his no-nonsense roommate, Hawk (Winston Duke), to take down criminals.
The biggest praise I can give Peter Berg’s latest feature, Spenser Confidential, is that it actually has a decently strong opening. We witness lead protagonist Spenser assaulting a fellow police officer while another police officer narrates his charges being placed against him, with Spenser pleading guilty but ultimately saying that the man deserved it.
We then get a smooth transition to a prison brawl sequence complete with Post Malone versus Mark Wahlberg, all while Boston’s “Foreplay / Long Time” plays in the background. It was at that exact moment where I thought that this could perhaps be a greatly entertaining movie with some fun action sequences sprinkled throughout.
Sadly, that instinct was wrong. I admire Berg for trying to make a fun buddy cop movie, but his latest collaboration with Wahlberg is nothing more than an incoherently written snore-inducing bore.
The number one reason why Spenser Confidential is so boring is because of the screenplay by Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland. The film, which is loosely based on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins and Robert B. Parker, is chalked full of expository dialogue and humor that, quite simply, isn’t funny. It always comes across as extremely forced and, at times, it honestly felt as if I was watching a bad episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
That’s probably the biggest issue with the film as a whole. It can’t balance humor with its serious subject matter. On the surface, this story is actually rather serious and, with a better screenwriter and director, this could have been a deep-cutting drama that had something interesting to say. Instead, what we get is an incredibly messy and tonally inconsistent misfire. Often times, we will go from a comedy sequence straight to a dramatic one or straight into an action scene. This transition was heavily jarring and left me feeling cold and bitter.
Nothing about the movie felt consistent. If they wanted to go for a fully serious picture, then they should have committed to that one hundred percent. Or if they wanted to go for a goofy, over-the-top buddy cop comedy, they should have gone for that one hundred percent. Instead, they try to have their cake and eat it too and it just doesn’t mesh well whatsoever.
Something that is recommendable about Spenser Confidential, however, are the performances on display. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t do anything outside of what he has done in the past here, but, Wahlberg gets some fairly fun stuff to do here, even if it does feel like he is playing every other Wahlberg character in the past.
Winston Duke portrays Hawk, Spenser’s roommate, and gets the best material here. While a lot of the jokes didn’t land with his character, it is hard not to crack a smile whenever Duke is doing something insane on screen, as it is abundantly clear that he is having the time of his life with this role. Seeing his charisma exude from the screen was honestly uplifting and made me wish he could have been in a better movie.
In addition, the action sequences that these two leads are in are actually decently enjoyable to watch. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing about the action on display here is John Wick levels of greatness, but in terms of amusing and often silly action set pieces, this mostly did the trick.
It’s just such a shame that not a lot else about the movie was all that good. It is a commendable effort and it is obvious that Berg and the rest of the cast and crew did try to make a competent film with some fun to be had, but there are just way too many problems with the screenplay and tone to call this a good time.
Spenser Confidential is an admirable, but heavily sloppy effort, with its tonally inconsistent screenplay and unfunny humor, even if its action set pieces are fun.
Overall Grade: D+
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout and sexual content
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine, Marc Maron, Austin Post, Cassie, James DuMont, Michael Gaston, Colleen Camp, Rebecca Gibel, Big Shug, Donald Cerrone, Justus Carney
Directed by: Peter Berg
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: March 6, 2020
Running Time: 111 minutes