MOVIE "Spenser Confidential"
WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Mark Wahlberg plays Det. Spenser, a Boston cop who did a prison stint after beating up a corrupt captain and now finds himself released to live in the Southie home of the cantankerous Henry Cimoli (Alan Arkin). There, he shares a room with aspiring MMA fighter Hawk (Winston Duke), and — because it's the "right thing to do," but really because he's just basically bored — he begins investigating a murderous scheme involving corrupt cops, the Trinitarios and other unsavory figures.
MY SAY You can learn a lot about a movie by how much trust it has in the basic intelligence of its audience. Here's one that thinks so lowly of its potential viewers that early on in the movie a shot of a prison wall topped with barbed wire is followed shortly thereafter with the word 'PRISON' in a large font to be sure no one missed the obvious signal of the establishing image.
"Spenser Confidential" is the kind of movie that's set in Boston and makes a point of throwing in some Dunkin' Donuts product placement for no reason, lest we forget how much Bostonians love their Dunkin'. The only major female character in the movie, Spenser's former love interest Cissy Davis (Iliza Shlesinger) practically screams with relish as she drops "r's" left and right. Another scene setting title reads, simply, "LOBSTAH."
It is a Mark Wahlberg action picture directed by Peter Berg — this is their fifth collaboration after forgettable fare such as "Deepwater Horizon" and "Patriots Day" — and it doesn't trust its audience enough to offer anything that remotely deviates from the norm.
That means Wahlberg scowls really hard, crinkling his nose when Spenser's trying to unpack the layers of the stock conspiracy plot involved. There are many things to like about Wahlberg as an actor, but he's not very good when his characters have to put their thinking cap on.
It means lots of scenes that devolve into dumb fights where Wahlberg and Duke throw people through walls and the like, before the final showdown with the bad guy involves a character actually putting a gun away and saying, "Let's go," before yet another big fistfight.
The screenplay is by the Academy Award winner Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential") and Sean O'Keefe, adapted in a very thin way from the Ace Atkins novel "Wonderland." The character of Spenser himself is of course the famous creation of Robert B. Parker. He's the Boston private detective at the center of dozens of novels and at least one '80s TV series ("Spenser: For Hire"). The intention is clearly to launch Netflix's version of the "Jack Reacher" series.
In other words, you know exactly what this movie is, and exactly what you'll get from it. But even a wisecracking Alan Arkin can't shake the reality that this is filmmaking on total autopilot.
BOTTOM LINE If you're looking for a really, really mindless action movie, you could do worse than "Spenser Confidential," but with so many better things out there, why bother?