This Netflix title caught my eye because I was a fan of the TV series “Spenser for Hire” (starring the late Robert Urich) in the mid-1980s and was curious how a new movie version of the crime drama might play out with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. The film is directed by Peter Berg who’s worked with Wahlberg several times in the past decade, in big-screen features like Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, Mile 22 and Lone Survivor. Spenser Confidential would be weak for a theatrical release, but it’s entertaining enough for Netflix streaming – for nostalgia’s sake and/or if you just like watching Wahlberg do his thing. Check, check.
Spenser Confidential was inspired by “Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland,” a best-selling novel by Ace Atkins who continued the Spenser character after the fictional PI’s creator, Robert Parker, died in 2010. As the movie opens, ex-cop Spenser (Wahlberg) is just getting out of prison, with plans to leave his native Boston for good. He spent five years in lockup (with the likes of a tatted up convict played by rapper Post Malone) for assaulting a superior. He had his reasons. Spenser is one of the good guys, with a strong moral compass that gets him trouble – and beat up – a lot.
Spenser gets roped into helping his old boxing coach and mentor Henry (Alan Arkin, Argo, Little Miss Sunshine) with a promising but brash MMA fighter named Hawk (Winston Duke, US, Black Panther). As in the TV series, Spenser and Hawk don’t always see eye to eye but ultimately have each other’s backs. That comes in handy when Spenser decides to investigate the murders of two former colleagues and becomes ensnared in a violent, convoluted plot involving drug traffickers and dirty cops. Spenser’s tempestuous, foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger, Instant Family) also lands in the mix (the two get reacquainted in a bathroom scene that could almost single-handedly account for the film’s ‘R’ rating). And ultimately, justice prevails.
Spenser Confidential feels a lot like a two-hour pilot for a series reboot. And perhaps that’s exactly what it is. Hmmmm.
And just for old time’s sake… the theme music and opening credits to the original TV series: