As the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated its presence in the U.S., we need escapism more than ever. Plenty of folks are self-isolating or working from home, but that doesn’t mean our entertainment is limited. Universal just announced they’ll be making their in-theater films available on demand. (Parents, the new “Trolls” movie will be available Easter Weekend!)
For me, I went with “Spenser Confidential,” the new Netflix original starring Mark Wahlberg. The film was released March 6 but has remained the No. 1 most-watched on Netflix. It’s based on a character created by author Robert B. Parker, but that might be where the similarities end.
Wahlberg stars as Spenser, a disgraced former Boston cop who was sent to prison after assaulting his commanding officer, Capt. Boylan (Michael Gaston), who also happened to be a wife beater. It’s been five years since Spenser went to prison, but he’s back on the streets. There aren’t a lot of options for a former convict, so he plans to become a truck driver and move to Arizona.
Unfortunately, his plans are derailed when Boylan is killed the night he’s released from prison, and a friend and cop, Terrence Graham (Brandon Scales), is found dead and accused of killing Boylan in a murder-suicide. Terence leaves behind a wife, Leticia (Hope Olaide Wilson), and a little boy. Spenser smells something fishy and can’t stop himself from getting involved in the investigation.
This puts him at odds with his landlord and friend, Henry (Alan Arkin), former partner Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine) and (former?) girlfriend, Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger). For fun, he brings along his new roommate, Hawk (Winston Duke).
“Spenser Confidential” has the feel of an old TV detective show. Think “Matlock,” “Perry Mason” or even “Diagnosis: Murder.” Hey, I watched them all. You’ve got the personable lead, and that lead has a motley crew to help him. Spenser has Cissy, who can’t decide if she hates him or wants to have his babies. You’ve got Henry, a boxing coach who’s cantankerous and hilarious. And, then there’s Hawk, the wannabe MMA fighter who eats leafy greens, drinks oat milk and possibly uses healing massage on dogs. He’s a giant you don’t want to meet in a dark alley, but he’s also got a heart for helping others.
We don’t have to wait until the last commercial break to find out who the bad guys are, but the film still has a bit of that same “Matlock” vibe, with one big difference: The film is definitely not family friendly. There’s plenty of cursing, moments of violence and even a brief sex scene. (Seriously, Cissy just doesn’t know how she feels.) Spenser manages to get into fist fight after fist fight, but never manages to end up with more than a cut above his eyebrow or a small cut on the side of his cheek. I guess producers wanted him to look a bit worse for wear but didn’t want to affect his Wahlberg looks?
I might make it sound like there’s a lot of action in the film, but honestly, it’s isolated to a few incidents, and they usually involve Spenser being beaten up. Instead, we get stretches where we get to see Spenser in action, and we get a glimpse of the cop he used to be. He’s willing to ask the questions others aren’t, and he’s willing to cross lines others can’t. Yes, you have to wonder how he gets by with some of the things he does, but ultimately, it’s not worth questioning too much.
At the end of the day, I can’t say “Spenser Confidential” was a good film, but I can’t say it was a bad one either. Wahlberg is personable, and I truly enjoy watching him as Spenser, especially when he’s doing the buddy thing with Hawk. They’re an odd couple of sorts, but together, they create a perfect partnership that’s fun to watch.
While I’m not familiar with Parker’s Spenser, I have read some of his “Jesse Stone” books — that was a great Tom Selleck franchise, y’all — and can say this doesn’t feel like Parker’s style, or even that of Ace Atkins, who took over the Spenser line after Parker’s death. That being said what we get isn’t bad. It’s not something you’ll necessarily remember the following day but there’s certainly worse ways to pass your time while you’re isolating yourselves for the foreseeable future.