Netflix has this inane ability to release the creative shackles on those who were chained by the creative limitations imposed upon them by traditional Hollywood studios, whether it be in the form of seeing a Michael Bay film in “6 Underground” in which he’s allowed to completely go off the rails, or a film where Martin Scorcese is allowed to tell a 3-hour mob epic (“The Irishman”). If you’re a Scorcese-type person, this freedom is great, as studio interference is a major limiter on how great your movies can be, but if you’re like Bay, that interference keeps you from going off the deep end.
Enter “Spencer Confidential,” starring and produced by Mark Wahlberg, in which he plays the titular ex-cop in Boston (because of course it’s in Boston) who investigates corruption in the police force. The title of this review really says it all. This movie is about as Mark Wahlberg — and for that matter, Boston — as you can get. There is literally a fight scene in a bathroom of a Boston sports bar that had the Red Sox on, in which “Sweet Caroline” plays as Wahlberg throws punches at some crooked cops — it’s that on the nose.
Look, it’s no secret that if Wahlberg could only star in one type of movie for the rest of his life, he would probably star in cop dramas that take place in and around Boston. In that sense, “Spencer Confidential” is great if you love Wahlberg, because you get pure, unadulterated Wahlberg. But his films are only as good as the directors they are paired with, and unfortunately director Peter Berg is no Scorcese, so “Spencer Confidential” is not “The Departed” to put it lightly. Berg directed 2012’s messy, confusing “Battleship,” and “Spencer Confidential” is everything you’d expect from someone responsible for that atrocity.
The plot is pretty bare bones and uninspired. Spencer (Wahlberg) gets out of jail after five years for beating up his superior officer and crooked cop, Captain John Boylan (Michael Gaston). Trouble is, the day after he gets out of jail, Boylan gets murdered. Spencer, who is planning to become a truck driver in Arizona, can’t help but snoop around and uncovers a conspiracy that unravels almost immediately. After he gets out of jail, Spencer stays with his friend, Henry (Alan Arkan) who runs a local boxing ring, and recruits his new roommate, Hawk (Winston Duke), who works for Henry as a boxer, to help him in his antics. His ex-girlfriend, Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) helps out after stalking him for a little bit, creating some comedic situations for Wahlberg to play off of, but she comes off as more irritating than entertaining, not that that’s her fault; the direction in this film is nonexistent and the writing is paper thin. Oh, and Post Malone is in this film for a pretty pointless cameo as an inmate Spencer needs information from.
Bokeem Woodbine plays Driscoll, a current cop and the main villain of the film, and he does the best with what he can. His villainy is subtle at first, but quickly takes a dive off the deep end in the third act, which I must note is entirely on Berg and his writers, as Woodbine has the range and talent to portray a complex villain, he’s just not given enough time or meaningful material to work with. The story Berg brought to life is very one-note, so the fact that Woodbine was able to bring to life a two-note villain is laudibe.
Berg’s involvement with this film, and the simplicity of the script is what holds this movie down. The cast is all great and had the capability to hit this film out of the park, just the direction is too weak and unfocused, and the film has no interesting ideas. I do have to wonder if Wahlberg’s involvement as a producer choked the life out of this project, as his fingerprints are all over it as the hallmarks — or Wahlmarks — of a Wahlberg film are here, but nothing else seems to be.
If you like Mark Wahlberg, you’ll probably get a kick out of this, but even Wahlberg fans might hesitate to watch it a second time. On the Wahlberg scale, this film is closer to “The Happening” than “The Departed.”
“Spencer Confidential” gets a 4/10