Released: 6th March
Seen: 28th April
The buddy cop movie is a classic and reliable genre for a reason, the formula is so simple that if you pull it off right you will have something fun. You take two very different people, an Odd Couple if you will, and then you put them in cop outfits and make them do cop stuff. This is not a hard concept to execute and yet Netflix has already kinda screwed it up with the disastrous Coffee and Kareem which still haunts my nightmares which I have a lot more of now because I sleep more often because what the hell else does one do during a pandemic? Anyway, since Netflix either knew Coffee and Kareem was going to hurt or because they figured that no one would care if they did the same general thing again they made another buddy cop movie and this time they did an adequate job, IMPROVEMENT!
Spenser Confidential starts with the most outrageous and unrealistic idea you’ve ever heard in your life… a white police officer goes to jail for assault. Specifically, the cop is called Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) and he’s just getting out of jail after a 5-year sentence for beating up another cop. In a coincidence that’s so cosmic that it can only be seen with the Hubble telescope, the cop that Spenser punched a whole bunch is murdered on the same day that he’s let out of prison. There’s also another person who gets murdered but the important one is that cop who had the punchable face. Spenser, wanting to prove he’s innocent, teams up with his new roommate Hawk (Winston Duke) to try and solve the case, and he has to try and do it while not being yelled at by his ex-wife Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) because that would just be awkward.
To be fair to this film, even though its plot is listed in the Cop Plots For Dummies book in the very first chapter that’s kind of OK because the point of this film is clearly that core relationship between Hawk and Spenser. I don’t really need to care about the case they’re trying to solve, it’s so obvious that you can literally work out the main bad guy within about 15 minutes. What’s essential here is the characters and when they are working well together then the movie actually has something. They may not be vastly different, they’re both hotheads who have previously been in jail and tend to think with their fists or with whatever they’ve got clenched in their fists, but they manage to find little ways to work off each other. Moments like Spenser teaching Hawk how to throw a punch or the two of them essentially having a “who does the dog like more” contest are fun little moments that give us something to latch onto. There’s just not enough of those moments in the film.
Even though this is clearly meant to be a buddy movie, clock the poster that puts the two of them side by side in the middle of a shootout, we spend almost all the time with Spenser and there just isn’t enough to him to work on his own. He’s an angry guy from Boston, AKA Mark Wahlberg Stock Character #7, I’ve seen him do this before and better. He doesn’t have anyone to really bounce off and therefore just kind of hangs out there to dry. His best solo moment is a bathroom fight where we get the reminder that Mark Wahlberg isn’t afraid to make himself look like an idiot for a movie… I mean, the man did Transformers: The Last Knight so we already know he’s willing to look dumb. Other than that, I would be hard-pressed to even name a memorable scene that’s just Spenser on his own, and I don’t even recall any solo scenes for Hawk.
The tone of this film is really hard to pin down, it has its moments of very broad comedy but then it goes back into normal cop movie and then maybe into a more sarcastic banter and then it’ll just do outright over the top action spectacular. It just runs through so many potential tones that it’s hard to grab onto just what they were going for. Some of the more extreme comedy moments like Spencer trying to chase a car, only to be stopped by a yard dog, are genuinely hilarious and felt right for this film but then we just go for ages without another bit of over the top outrageousness and you wonder if that moment was just accidental brilliance.
The film genuinely works best when they push it over the top and let their genuinely gifted comedic actors have some fun. I mean, you have freaking Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke, those two guys thrive on going big and you hold them back? I don’t get it. The one person who they seemed genuinely unable to hold back was Iliza Shlesinger and she’s also the one who seemed to be having the most fun, gets the most laughs and has the best character. This film feels like it’s trying so hard to just be a normal serious cop movie even though it keeps making it very obvious that it wants to be sillier than it’s being allowed to be.
Spenser Confidential is still fairly good, it has a few OK scenes and a lot of really good performances by an amiable cast but it lacks an identity. It’s not unique or memorable, but it’s not bad. You’ll end up wishing they actually leaned into their strengths and promptly forget it shortly after watching it, but it’s not bad.