If you’re the type to frequent bookstores, particularly within the mystery section, hearing the name of a detective named Spenser may ring a bell for you. Indeed, Robert B. Parker’s famed police investigator has been in the public’s eye for almost 40 years now, with his very first novel having been released back in 1973. Parker wrote a total of 40 Spenser novels up until his death in 2010, after which crime journalist and author Ace Atkins was selected to continue the Spenser saga, which is still ongoing as of 2020. There have been multiple adaptations of the series over the years, both on television and the big screen. Most recently, Netflix has given it a shot as well with the release of Spenser Confidential, an adaptation of Atkins’ second Spenser novel from 2013 entitled Wonderland. While I’ve never personally read these novels, they obviously hold a special place in the hearts of many readers both old and young, so it was interesting to see how this new film would hold up in front of both book fans and newcomers.
Spenser Confidential stars Mark Wahlberg as the titular Spenser, who begins this film as an ex-cop, just getting out of jail after he was sentenced for assaulting a fellow officer. Specifically, he beat up his captain Boylan (Michael Gaston) when he caught him abusing his wife and because Spenser suspected him of covering up a murder and purposefully dismissing evidence to try and close the case as quickly as possible. After serving his sentence, Spenser wants nothing more than to see his dog Pearl, get certified to drive semis, and leave Boston forever to be a truck driver. In the meantime, he must stay with his wacky mentor that trained him to fight, Henry (Alan Arkin), and an unexpected roommate in Hawk (Winston Duke), who is being trained to fight at Henry’s boxing ring in Spenser’s absence. The two of them clash throughout the film with their starkly contrasted personalities, plus the fact that Hawk has even recruited Spenser’s old dog to his side. But things change when Spenser discovers that two Boston cops were murdered, one of them being the notorious Captain Boylan. The other victim was an acquaintance of Spenser’s from back in the day that he knew to be a good and honest man, but the media is painting him to have been a drug dealer and dirty criminal, effectively closing the murder cases with a hand wave. Spenser, not one to believe what the other detectives say if it doesn’t add up, decides to take matters into his own hands. With the help of Henry, Hawk, and Spenser’s on-again-off-again spitfire girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), Spenser takes a deeper dive into this mystery and finds quite a rabbit hole of conspiracies, featuring plenty of dirty cops, drug cartels, sabotage, backstabbing, and machete action to be had. He also finds a possible helper in Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine), a cop who may not be what he seems at first. Overall, the story is a bit predictable for a police action thriller mystery of this sort, but I won’t spoil the end as it can still be fun to experience the mystery’s resolution for yourself.
If you know that you enjoy a good popcorn movie with friends that doesn’t require too much thinking, you’ll have a good time with this film. It’s a spectacle in the same way that The Fast and the Furious movies are, although perhaps not as far-fetched as the later films. The action is fun, there aren’t many shocking twists, and the characters are charming. Though the script’s dialogue can often leave a lot to be desired, the charisma of the main actors is what carries it out of being an awkward mess and into being a string of wild escapades that are still funny to watch. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is good because that would make it feel more shallow and snooty. Instead, it’s able to bounce between cutthroat action and Mark Wahlberg dropping a silly one-liner; not quite with the grace of someone like Marvel, but not poorly. Mark Wahlberg himself is actually very likable in this movie, even though his roles can sometimes be hit-or-miss in that department. He really takes to the role of Spenser naturally, and it’d be nice to see him return to this character (especially since they left the door open for a sequel). Winston Duke, hot off of his success in Black Panther and Jordan Peele’s Us, continues to be a pleasure to see in any role, bringing his special brand of charm that audiences have grown to love in every line. The other actors were all good too, but our main duo serves as the standouts. I’m not sure how they compare to the books’ versions of Spenser and Hawk, but hopefully these actors were able to do the characters justice.
If you’re currently stuck at home with friends and family and need a movie to watch just for mindless laughs and action all together, Spenser Confidential may be the perfect film to fill that need. However, if you’re binging by yourself right now in search of some new faves or overlooked gems, the movie may not hold up quite as well. I found myself a bit bored whilst watching this on my own, but the addition of some friends to banter with throughout would’ve vastly improved the experience. If you’re a fan of Robert B. Parker and Ace Atkins’ books, it’s definitely worth giving a watch to see a modern representation of an older character that hasn’t been adapted in a little while, and hopefully the film pays its dues to its source material. Despite the simple story and writing, the actors really do bring an enjoyable atmosphere and the action scenes are all a blast to experience. If the plot description sounds neat and you have a group together, load up Netflix and give Spenser Confidential a watch.
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