Brief synopsis: When ex-cop Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) gets out of prison and hears that dirty cop and his old captain, Boylan (Michael Gaston) who he got sent to prison for assaulting, got killed his curiosity is piqued. When another police officer, Terence Graham (Brandon Scales) is also killed and it is made to look like a suicide, a sceptical Spenser investigates.
Is it any good?: Spenser Confidential, based on the old, short-lived but enjoyable mid-eighties show, Spenser: For Hire, is a modern interpretation which sees Wahlberg bring his gritty Wahlberg-ness to proceedings. Somewhere between his Dignam in The Departed and his Lugo in Pain and Gain, Wahlberg comfortably carries a conspiracy actioner by the numbers. Not great but watchable.
Spoiler territory: After getting a going-away present of a failed attempt on his life from lifer Squeeb (Austin Post), Spenser is collected, on his release from prison, by his old friend, Henry (Alan Arkin). Henry takes him to his home and tells him he has a room for him. Spenser is unable to return to his old home which he shared with his girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), who is not one to rein in her anger or emotions.
Spenser finds that he is sharing a room with a hulk of a man called Hawk (Winston Duke). Hawk trains at Henry’s boxing gym. The next day, one of Spenser’s ex-colleagues, Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine) comes to see him. He tells him that Boylan has been murdered and that he is, because of his past with Boylan, a suspect.
Henry tells them that Spenser was home all night. Driscoll leaves. Spenser goes and joins a truck driving class. He plans to buy a truck and drive to Arizona. He cannot get the murder of Boylan out of his head. Henry asks him to train Hawk. Spenser initially refuses but Henry insists.
Later, Spenser and Henry see that a young police officer, Terence Graham, has apparently committed suicide, according to news reports. Spenser does not believe the reports. He knew Graham and believed he was a good cop. He goes to see Terence’s widow, Letitia (Hope Olaide Wilson). She tells him that she was told that Terence was a dirty cop and that she could be charged as an accessory.
Letitia tells him about a bar where Terence went to meet Boylan. Spenser goes to the bar. It is a popular haunt for the police and they do not like Spenser as he is known for beating up another cop. Spenser gets a beating. They throw him out of the bar. Spenser notices a security camera facing the bar from a store across the road.
He enlists the help of Hawk to recall the footage of Terence leaving the bar. He goes and checks out the scene of Boylan’s murder. He goes to see Driscoll and asks about Terence. Driscoll tries to discourage him from looking into the case. While out to lunch with Hawk and after reconnecting with Cissy, Spenser sees the car he saw on the security video. He tries to chase the car but it gets away. Luckily for Spenser, Hawk remembers the number plate.
The number plate belongs to Bentwood (James DuMont). Spenser knows of him from his patrol days. He was a goon for hire and killed and hired people to kill a young woman, Gloria Weisnewski (Alexandra Vino). When he found out that the homicide department, headed by Boylan, was not even looking at her case, he went and confronted him.
Later on, he was contacted by a reporter, Wayne Cosgrove (Marc Maron), who shows him a tape of the murder. Spenser confronts Boylan again, this time at his home and assaults him which resulted in his prison time and loss of career.
Spenser watches Bentwood and follows him. He sees that he is being watched and photographed by some other people. He realises they are federal agents and approaches them. They give him short shrift, agent Burton (Ayana Brown) gives him her card and tells him to contact them if he finds out anything.
Spenser returns to prison to talk to Squeeb. He shows him a live stream of his wife getting chatted to by Hawk to persuade him to talk. It works. Squeeb tells him one word; Wonderland.
He goes to see Cosgrove and asks him if he knows anything about it. Cosgrove tells him that it is a big venture involving many shady parties wanting to create the next large gambling mecca. Spenser says if he brings the evidence, will he expose it. Cosgrove is not confident that Spenser can get sufficient proof to expose the corruption.
Boylan’s funereal is attended by Driscoll and several other police officers. Amongst the officers present, another crooked cop, Maklin (Kip Weeks), talks to Driscoll about Spenser. He says they have to kill him. Spenser goes into a local Mexican restaurant to get some food and is attacked. Hawk gets him out of trouble.
With his location compromised and worried about Henry, they all move into Cissy’s place. Letitia, who had been at her husband’s funereal, returns home to find her place a wreck. She calls Spenser. She gives him a wire that Terence had been wearing as part of his investigation in conjunction with the federal agents. He and Hawk listen to the tape. Boylan is confessing to Terence about the whole corrupt operation. He tells Terence that everybody works for Driscoll.
Spenser goes to confront Driscoll. He tells him to come clean. Driscoll refuses. Spenser takes the tape to the feds. They say it is not enough. Spenser takes matters into his own hands and goes and gets information out of Brentwood. They grab one of the trucks that have the drug stash that Driscoll is using to raise money for the Wonderland venture.
They take it to Cosgrove. He says it is not enough. He takes the van to Cissy’s place. Henry is gone. Spenser gets a call from Driscoll. He has Henry and he is at Wonderland. He tells Spenser to bring his drugs. Spenser formulates a plan to get Henry back.
Cissy drives into Wonderland and gets Henry. Spenser and Hawk come smashing in and create a diversion so as they can getaway. Driscoll runs off and Spenser gives chase. Spenser catches up with Driscoll. They fight and Spenser eventually overpowers him. He leaves Driscoll and the evidence for the feds.
After all the parties are convicted, Spenser, Hawk, Cissy and Henry watch the news. One of Spenser old highschool friends is seen getting arrested. Spenser thinks he is innocent but the others do not want him to get involved. The end.
Spenser Confidential is an enjoyable though not overly taxing film. Wahlberg is perfectly cast as the ex-cop/con with a moral compass that makes him want to right wrongs. Ably supported by Duke’s Hawk, as well Alda’s Henry and with the potty-mouthed Shlesinger’s Cissy completing the central quartet, Spenser Confidential is an old fashioned, brain-in-neutral, good against evil actioner.
For anyone who watches a lot of films, the appearance of Woodbine’s Driscoll was probably like an alarm going off, screaming ‘here’s the bad guy!’. Woodbine, as good an actor as he has been in other projects, can pretty much phone-in a bad guy performance.
Embracing that niche occupied by the likes of Robert Knepper and Eric Roberts, Woodbine’s presence in proceedings pretty much signposts the direction of the film.
With the old ‘dirty cops’ and ‘everybody’s in on it’ storyline in effect, Spenser Confidential potters along exactly as one would expect. With a runtime of one hundred and ten minutes, the action is engaging enough to keep you interested and the comedy, mostly provided by Shlesinger’s great turn as the abrasive Cissy, is good enough to amuse.
None of the actors on show is required to go to any great emotional lengths and the film goes more for feel good rather than deep feels. With the film currently sitting as the most-watched film on Netflix – they have decided to publish, on-site, which shows are the most popular – the intimation of a possible sequel at the end of Spenser Confidential seems more probable than possible.
Spenser Confidential is watchable and enjoyable with absolutely no surprises. Worth a look if only for Shlesinger’s performance.