Netflix’s “Spenser Confidential” lacks necessary punch


Ransom Bergen

Craig Odenwald, Staff Writer

Leather jacket, brisk walk, permanent scowl: these are the markers of television’s ’80s ex-cop, and Mark Wahlberg wears them well. He’s got a partner with muscle and technical know-how, a former flame who often wants him dead, and an adorable dog that tugs at the heartstrings. At its start, “Spenser Confidential” looks to be a fun throwback to ’80s cop television. The only thing missing is the fun. 

“Spenser Confidential” is directed by Peter Berg, and based on the ’80s television series “Spenser for Hire.” That show itself is based on a series of novels by Robert Parker. From the outset, this Netflix reboot was set up to be a money-making machine: Parker wrote forty novels featuring Spenser and Hawk. So Netflix picked up the premise, hoping that audiences would hop in the old Buick, with Mark Wahlberg as no-nonsense Spenser and Winston Duke as wry-humored Hawk, and go on two, three, four, five, 40 Netflix adventures. But, as Hollywood is finding these days, your first adventure needs to be as good as you promise your second, third, and 40th will be. It takes time: creating a world, building up characters, and giving us a reason to care. “Spenser Confidential” promises there are better adventures waiting around the corner, but it won’t sit still long enough to make a good first impression. 

Case-in-point: this movie promises mystery, comedy, and action. The intrigue is there, as Spenser investigates the murder of a police captain he once thought was corrupt. His investigation leads him to deal with dirty cops, drug dealers, and men he once called friends. But the mystery can’t support the movie on its own. If Berg is content to throw every ’80s pop song into his movie, one would expect some fun and thrills.

Punches land in a fight scene or two, but those are few and far between. The quips are rare, and rarer are the ones that land. A lot of that has to do with the tone: “Spenser Confidential” doesn’t know whether to try to make you sit on the edge of your seat or sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It’s at once incredibly serious, gleefully irreverent, and, in the case of Wahlberg’s relationship with his flame, oddly raunchy. It tries to strike that particular tone of ‘’80s cool’ without ever committing to it. When your most intense fight in an ’80s throwback involves two guys in their near-fifties debating about the nature of society while struggling for breath as they punch each other in an abandoned casino, you’ve got an “excitement” problem. 

“Spenser Confidential” wants the excitement, and it has all the pieces in place to make it happen. Wahlberg’s got some attitude, and Duke has it in spades. But it’s a crime how little fun their adventure actually is. Call it in. 

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