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Mark Wahlberg’s new Netflix ‘Spenser’ reboot is the detective movie for the algorithm era

The latest take on Robert B. Parker’s long-running detective is all style, little substance.

Mark Wahlberg’s new Netflix ‘Spenser’ reboot is the detective movie for the algorithm era
[Photos: Daniel McFadden/Netflix; Tore Sætre/Wikimedia Commons; skeeze/Pixabay]

If there was a mystery to be solved in Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg’s Spenser Confidential, their new reboot of the character based on the long-running Robert B. Parker detective novel series, it’d be the case of the missing heart.

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All the ingredients are here. In that way, this is the perfect detective action flick for the algorithm era. Beloved source material? Check. The movie is loosely based on Wonderland, a Spenser novel written by Ace Atkins, so you’ve got a popular detective novel as foundation material, with the added bonus of any residual good feelings from its decent ‘80s TV adaptation of the Parker novels starring Robert Urich.

Big-name director and star? Check. You’ve got award-winning director Peter Berg reteaming yet again with Wahlberg.

High-quality character actors that cover both old folks and POC? Check and check. How do you like Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, and Bokeem Woodbine?

Major East Coast American city with a wicked laaarge diaspora? Bingo. You’ve got the setting of Boston which, if 21st century film history so far tells us anything, people love in movies.

International pop star? Check. Post Malone.

Mix in some feel-good rock, some guns, and impeccably choreographed fist fights, and this should be another Netflix genre home run over the Green Monster.

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Yet perhaps it’s all those perfect ingredients that make the production feel so manufactured. Hell, Spenser drives an ’80s-era Pontiac Riviera, and the first song we hear is Boston’s “Peace of Mind.” The rest of the soundtrack is full of the same soothing groove rock like Foreigner and Little Feat. But like a lot of the story, which follows Spenser and Duke’s character Hawk as they dig into a case of police corruption, even the musical cues are so on the nose that it feels like you just got hit with one of Wahlberg’s Spenser uppercuts. In one scene, Spenser has an intimate encounter with his longtime, now ex, girlfriend (Shlesinger) to the sound of Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time.” Y’get it?!

[Photo: Daniel McFadden/Netflix]
There could almost be a drinking game for every time Wahlberg is squinting out to nowhere or talking about dirty cawps. Despite trying so hard to be detective flick comfort food, it’s this lack of depth that makes it more like the cheap hot dogs that Arkin’s character loves so much.

Look, this isn’t The Town and nor should it be. It’s pulpy popcorn fun that, with its comedy and action mix, felt like it was trying to be a mix between Shane Black’s excellent The Nice Guys (2016), with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, and Denzel Washington’s 2014 Boston-set The Equalizer. Unfortunately, it comes across as a garbled mish-mash of The Other Guys and Equalizer 2.

[Photo: Daniel McFadden/Netflix]
My rational brain may tell me that Spenser Confidential is not very good, but it’s still a fun watch that may even be worth it for seeing Wahlberg’s extended tussle with a German shepherd. The beauty of the streaming flick is that the stakes are so low, there’s no feeling ripped off. You didn’t drive to a theater to pay $50 in tickets and snacks for it. In an ideal world, Netflix will do for detective movies what it’s already done for rom-coms, breathing new life into a genre that appeared to no longer be a viable box-office studio investment, but fun enough to be hugely popular at home.

Before the final confrontation, Spenser says to Hawk, “I’ve got a plan. It’s a little unconventional, but you’ll have to trust me.” Given Spenser Confidential‘s last scene sequel hint, it sounds like Netflix is saying the same thing.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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