Review by C.J. Bunce
If you ever longed for the easygoing action movies from the 1970s like Smokey and the Bandit and Every Which Way But Loose, you may want to check out the new Netflix movie Spenser Confidential. Like those films it has the big screen leading actor in Mark Wahlberg (The Italian Job, Shooter, Ted), playing the familiar Robert P. Parker character Spenser, the amiable co-star with Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us) as partner Hawk, the mouthy lead actress in Iliza Shlesinger (Instant Family, Forever 31) as Spenser’s ex Cissy, the snarky elder voice in Alan Arkin (Argo, Gattaca, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Sesame Street) as Spenser and Hawk’s mentor, and even the cute animal friend presence via a friendly hound dog (that’s Pearl). And a cool ride (here, a primo 1984 Buick Riviera).
Just like with the big screen movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (reviewed here at borg), viewers should forget about what they’ve read in the novels or experienced in the 1980s TV series starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks. This is a trademark Mark Wahlberg movie, and he’s in familiar territory–Boston–and Wahlberg’s own real-life stint in jail brings a certain authenticity to his performance as a tough guy with a big mouth who can hold is own against much bigger thugs, emerging from the slammer. Wahlberg’s character has bits of the roles he’s taken on in The Departed (cop), Shooter (strategist), The Italian Job (planner), The Perfect Storm (driven), 2 Guns (drugs), The Other Guys (buddy cop), even Ted (Bostonian), and the film comes from director Peter Berg, who audiences have seen team up with Wahlberg before in Mile 22, Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, and Lone Survivor.
Wahlberg’s ex-cop is a good guy who must act when he sees someone in trouble, which in turn gets him into trouble. The story in Spenser Confidential is neither complex not action-packed. But Arkin and Shlesinger add some humor to what is very much an extended episode of early 1980s prime time television. It has the same quality that makes us keeping coming back for more in the reboot Magnum PI series and the new Stumptown series–actors we like, characters we like, and an easy mystery to solve.
Standout scenes include a guard dog attacking Spenser, every scene with Pearl the dog, and Cissy’s house of dogs (we caught a genuine smile out of Wahlberg)–in fact every scene with Cissy ranting is the Boston version of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny. And chalk up another solid performance of Arkin as Arkin. The low point is the brief use of a tortured animal to develop viewers’ revenge instincts, which tends to be a sign of poor writing.
If you like movies stuffed with classic rock, you’ll want to track down the music for Spenser Confidential. And watch for Bokeem Woodbine (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Riddick, The X-Files) as a Boston cop, Marc Maron (Dr. Katz Professional Therapist, Joker, GLOW) as an iffy investigative reporter, and the great guest star of every 1980s TV series this movie pulls from, and several film classics, Colleen Camp (Clue, the Police Academy movies, Wayne’s World, Die Hard with a Vengeance) as the teacher of a truck driving school.
This is nothing so lackluster as Netflix movies Io or Extinction, but it also isn’t a big action spectacle like 6 Underground. File it next to the Will Smith cop movie Bright. It’s worth your time and one to add to your watch list. And if you like the plot, check out a little funnier fare in the Damian Lewis series Life (which co-starred Alan Arkin’s son Adam Arkin in a similar role) and Russell Crowe’s The Nice Guys, and some weightier fare in Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher, Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer and The Equalizer 2, and Sylvester Stallone’s Copland.
It’s like the movies you may have watched late Friday nights on the old Spike TV or TBS’s “Movies for Guys Who Like Movies.” It’s fun, it’s easy to watch, and it’s another reason why we like getting big-screen movies delivered to us directly on Netflix. Watch Spenser Confidential, streaming now exclusively on Netflix.