‘Spenser Confidential’ review: senseless action flick won’t give Mark Wahlberg the franchise he clearly craves

Boring action sequences, chemistry-free leads and punchline-less jokes

Poor Mark Wahlberg. Transformers is starting again without him, Mile 22 was supposed to get a sequel and a TV show but that never happened, and now his latest attempt to kick-start a new franchise ends up looking like this – a depressingly average Friday night action flick that you’ll probably forget as soon as you’ve seen it.

The fifth collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after the superior Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day and Mile 22, Spenser Confidential marks a low point for the pair’s diminishing run together – uncomfortably pitched somewhere between a grisly urban thriller and a goofy buddy cop comedy.

Wahlberg is Spenser, a tough Boston cop who winds up in prison for being too much of a loose cannon. Getting out and meeting up with his old boxing trainer (Alan Arkin), Spenser gets introduced to a grumpy MMA fighter called Hawk (Winston Duke – M’Baku in Black Panther and the Dad in Us), and the pair find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy that goes straight to City Hall involving mobsters, crooked cops and neo-Nazi stooges (played by Post Malone in a decent acting debut). There’s a poorly-written girlfriend thrown into the mix (stand-up comic Iliza Shlesinger), but any meat to be found in the script is saved for Spenser and Duke’s budding bromance – a relationship that never really builds on much besides a bit of boring bar fight banter.

Wahlberg is a dependable lump of action hero, even if his permanent squint of anger/confusion keeps him playing the same guy in every film, but Duke does a lot more with a lot less. This might not be the vehicle he needs to break into the bigger leagues, but he clearly deserves better already with an understated sidekick role that makes Wahlberg look lazy in every scene.

Spenser Confidential
Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke in ‘Spenser Confidential’. Credit: Netflix

Written by Brian Helgeland – the guy behind no-nonsense noirs like L.A. Confidential, Payback and Man On Fire – there’s some old-fashioned brawn hiding behind all the clichés, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve seen it all before. Mashed together from the bad bits of better films that filled the bargain bin during the ’90s, it’s a dull stream of corny jokes and predictable plot twists that winds up exactly where you expect. The action scenes land with occasional heft (and one truck chase looks passably better than the rest) but Berg shoots everything with such grey, muted grimness that it never feels as exciting as it should.

Worst still, it’s not funny. Not breezy enough to be a knockabout buddy cop movie, and far too fluffy to be a serious police thriller, Spenser Confidential ends up feeling like a hard-edged noir with all the hard edges rounded off. Are we supposed to laugh when Spenser fights a dog on a kid’s slide? Or when a cop gets his head sawn off by a machete? And what the hell are we supposed to feel during the bathroom sex scene when Wahlberg silently stares at himself in the mirror throughout the whole thing?

Whatever Berg is going for, it’s clear in the last setup scene that he wants to do it all again – with a sequel already teased for Spenser and Duke’s next ride. Will this be the film that finally gives Wahlberg the franchise he’s been gunning for? Probably not.


  • Director: Peter Berg
  • Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Colleen Camp, Iliza Shlesinger
  • Release date: March 6