Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s latest exercise in macho posturing is both aesthetically and thematically ugly.
“It would be so easy,” I whisper to myself. My finger hovers over the little red button that would close Netflix, and grant me freedom. “I made it through almost an hour. I’ve got more than enough to write about, my editor would never know the difference.” Instead, I poured myself a stiff drink and hit resume; blame a foolhardy dedication to craft or sheer stupidity, but I watched all one hour and fifty-one minutes of Spenser Confidential. Do yourself a favor: don’t make my mistake.
Has director Peter Berg started making movies on iPhone? No, that would be an actual aesthetic choice; still, I’m scratching my head as to why Spenser looks like a poorly shot student film. A de-saturated, opening flashback is particularly ugly and juvenile, not just because we see the titular Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) beat up an unarmed man – an opening that’s all the more uncomfortable considering the star has done something similar in real life.
But instead of leading to a prosperous career as a leading man, Spenser’s violence towards his police captain (at his home) lands him in prison – according to an enormous title card that reads “PRISON.” We cut to five years later, the day before this now ex-cop’s release. For some reason, global superstar Post Malone saunters into the frame, and eventually stabs Marky-Mark in the side with a rusty shiv.
But as usual, Marky-Mark’s playing a real man, and Spenser’s not the kind of guy who’ll let a gaping wound get in the way of his homecoming. He’s a grizzled Bostonian, afraid of only one thing: his shrill ex-girlfriend “Cissy” (Iliza Shlesinger), who the movie wastes no time framing in obviously misogynist terms. As Spenser rides back into his beloved Southie with his mentor (?) Henry (Alan Arkin, here for the paycheck), he meets “Hawk” (Winston Duke, also here for the paycheck), his new roommate.
Promising nothing and delivering even less, Spenser Confidential never comes close to justifying its own existence outside of an ego-stroking exercise for Berg and Wahlberg. After doing a few movies with A-list macho head-ass Michael Bay, Wahlberg has moved to working with one of Bay’s biggest imitators, as Spenser marks Berg and Wahlberg’s fifth collaboration following Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day, and Mile 22. If you like obligatory movies about “a man doing things,” this is an actor/director pair to keep an eye on!
Promising nothing and delivering even less, Spenser Confidential never comes close to justifying its own existence outside of an ego-stroking exercise for Berg and Wahlberg.
What passes for a plot involves a police cover-up, a great excuse for a scene in which Wahlberg writes “who killed Boylan???” (sic), and then, after pausing to think, writes and dramatically circles “why?” There is no script, instead, the movie seems to have been organized around a series of notecards telling the characters where to go next. And there is no conflict between these characters because there are no characters, just empty vessels posturing and trying to look tough. There are no well-choreographed action sequences, either, as Berg cuts so frequently that it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of the space or what’s actually going on.
There is, however, a fist-fight set to “Sweet Caroline,” one of the many cringe-inducing needle-drops. Throughout, Spenser Confidential threatens to cross that holy line, becoming so bad it’s good. Alas, Berg’s style is too conventional to truly entertain, never quite ascending into total farce. Still, nothing explains the clumsiness of some of these shots and the absolutely amateur feel of the filmmaking. This thing ends on a shameless tease that promises a sequel, and considering the utter lack of quality control at Netflix, I won’t be surprised if we get another dummy-stupid outing. If you do find yourself watching Spenser, turn it off halfway through. Or better yet, don’t press play at all.
Spenser Confidential is currently streaming on Netflix.