Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Release Date: 6 March 2020
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Sean O'Keefe (screenplay by), Brian Helgeland (screenplay by)
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin
When two Boston police officers are murdered, ex-cop Spenser teams up with his no-nonsense roommate, Hawk, to take down criminals.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
It's easy, and mostly logical, to throw shade at Hollywood's lazy reliance on remakes and reboots to draw nostalgic audiences. But, discussing how to properly execute remakes and reboots, whether for the big or small screen, is also a pretty worthy conversation. One of the first criteria the industry should consider in choosing what to bring back is how well known the story is. Rebooting a story that's well known, possibly even considered a classic, is always going to be a mistake because you're carrying the weight of the previous version. Why weigh yourself down that way? Choose something that has an interesting story, but is relatively obscure so you don't have to bare that burden.
“Man On Fire” with Denzel Washington is a great example. Oh, you didn't know 2004's Man On Fire was a remake of 1987's Man On Fire starring Scott Glenn? Neither did I. For years and I loved Denzel's version. (Still want to see the original cuz I've always liked Scott Glenn too. One of these days I hope). Strong character, interesting story, unburdened by the notoriety of the previous version. That's how remakes should be done. Adherence to that concept is one of the good things Netflix's reboot of the “Spencer For Hire” tv series (/adaptation of the Spencer novels) has going for it. Unfortunately it's predictability, not only in the script, but Mark Wahlberg's performance, eats away at its strengths.
This new version is a bit different, but never strays too far from the original. Whereas Spenser in the show is a war veteran turned private investigator the new Spenser (Whalberg) is a former cop with Boston PD turned vigilante after doing 5 years in jail for viciously assaulting a superior he felt was hampering a murder investigation. Upon his release he moves in with his uncle and boxing trainer Henry (Alan Arkin). Believing he'll finally have some privacy after a few hard years inside Spenser is in for a rude awakening, finding out one of Henry's MMA fighting prospects, Hawk (Winston Duke; “Us”, “Black Panther”), is actually his new roomate. On top of that he spends a lot of time trying to avoid a confrontation with his brash, no nonsense ex-girlfriend Cissy (Comedian Iliza Shlesinger).
Spenser doesn't come out with any plans to be a hero, wanting only to get his trucker's license and move out of state for a fresh start. The problem starts when the superior he was convicted of assaulting is murdered. That draws his attention, but not nearly as much as the apparent suicide of the young police officer being accused of committing the murder. Having known that young officer Spenser finds it impossible to believe he'd do such a thing. He believes there's a deeper conspiracy at play and puts himself in danger to get to the bottom of it.
“Spensor Confidential” definitely has some fun and entertaining elements. It has a pronounced sense of humor. The characters trade barbs and insults along with a lot of sight gags, almost all of which involve Spenser getting his @$$ kicked. Which leads into the next upside... the action. There are several good fight scenes as Spenser often battles multiple opponents. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses, but he usually gives as good as he gets. And the toweringHawk tosses people around at a pretty good clip.
I was also impressed by many of the performances, finding them solid and grounded even when they strayed close to over the top. Arkin as Henry has an endearing crotchetyness and Shlesinger, who's comedy I've often found off putting because it feels more like a series of monologues in an off broadway play, actually proves her storytelling skills might be more suited to narrative than standup.
The problems start when you get into the script and the way Spenser comes off. There's a fine line a fine line between nostalgia and picking up the worst habits of the time period you're paying homage to. One of the things about tv in the 80's is almost all of it was utterly predictable and usually lacked a grounded sense of realism. Many times this movie is no different.
[SPOILERS] I could easily tell that the big rig we see at the truck driving school was going to be a part of the finale, likely bashing into something. I could see that it was going to come down to a one on one fight/match between Spenser and his former partner Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine). It was actually pretty obvious from the beginning that Driscoll was a sleaze and was likely dirty and one of the killers. While I'm no expert, as a writer, I know there's a fine line between foreshadowing and giving away the whole plot up front. I'd say this script stepped over that line with no real hesitation.
The thing about 80's shows is that, often, things just happened to work out way too easily with far too few consequences. Between Hawk and Spenser they've assaulted people in broad daylight in front of witnesses, driven cars into businesses with patrons and committed grand theft auto. Their main adversary is a cop and yet he never uses his rank as a cop to hunt them down. Then there's Spenser allowing Cissy to put herself directly in the line of fire as part of his big plan in the finale. That seems like it should be out of character for him. I'd guess there was a scene where Cissy insists on being part of that caper and will do so with our without them, but it didn't make into the movie. It should have because without it Spenser comes off as utterly irresponsible for letting that happen.[/SPOILERS]
Spenser himself has to be a character that, as tough as he is, we have to believe is so empathetic and taken with the idea of “Justice” that he can't possibly turn a blind eye to injustice. The sardonic, tough guy thing should be a cover for that deeper vulnerability and it just wasn't there. There was a moment when he's watching the tape of a woman being beaten by a gang of thugs. So much of selling Spenser hinged on this moment and if I'd felt him wince with every hit, perhaps even a point-of-view shot where he's in that place taking that beating, rather than just watching it would have sold him in a more believable way. The story could have found a depth it was lacking. They tried, but didn't go far enough to really sell it.
I actually think this reboot would have been a bit better off sticking closer to the original show/books by making Spenser a veteran before being a cop. Having fought in Iraq, a war started under false pretenses, could have seen that death and destruction and come back disillusioned about the fight for what's “right”. Having that further degraded by witnessing first hand the corruption of police, another organization that's supposed to be a bout “Justice”, I'd believe he'd decide the only way to get justice is to go out and get it himself. In the end Wahlberg wasn't bad, just one dimensional.
Overall “Spenser Confidential” is entertaining, lite fare, but it's hard not to think how much better it could have been with just a bit more attention to detail and logic.
Final Score: [ 7 out of 10]
Reviewed by: Tobias Elmore
Follow his facebook page for more reviews: The-Would-Be-Filmmaker
Watch Spenser Confidential, only on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/in/title/81005492
Also, here is the trailer for the movie:
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