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Review: Spenser Confidential--Mark Wahlberg In A Movie Made Of Spare Parts

With the closing of movie theaters across the country in response to the science fiction global outbreak scenario come true, I am turning my attention to releases you can see in the comfort of home.

While in self-imposed or government mandated quarantine. It’s the right thing to do. And we need to get aboard and make the best of it.

So, thank God for Netflix, right?

As I said in another recent review, timing is everything. And services like Netflix are here when we really need them, offering escape in a time of crisis. Not unlike those Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals during the Great Depression.

Spenser Confidential is a Netflix Original Movie, so you know right from the start that it’s going to be a click or two below what you might see in theaters if they were open. You can’t compare apples and oranges.

That doesn’t mean that a movie like this can’t shoot for the stars, it just means that it probably doesn’t have the NASA size production budget required to actually get there.

What Netflix calls original only means that this isn’t a flat-out remake of something you’ve seen already seen. Instead, it is made up of spare parts of a bunch of movies that you’ve seen before. Characters, plot points, chase scenes, fight scenes—you name it.

There is a prevailing sense of déjà vu throughout.

It starts with the good cop who beats the living crap out of a corrupt senior officer only to land in jail for several years where he spends time as a model prisoner. That is, until he is confronted by several really nasty inmates who want to dole out some brutal punishment shortly before his release.

As expected, he proves to be a pretty scrappy opponent due to the fact that he was a former boxer. You know who is going to win this fight before it starts.

We just want to see how it shakes out. It’s those little details that translate into screen entertainment.

The movie makes the point that Spenser is not invincible. There is a scene early on when he gets his ass kicked (literally into the street behind a bar) as a reminder that even he can’t prevail when he’s clearly outnumbered.

He’s vulnerable. And almost human. Duly noted. And the audience knows that he could be injured and maybe even killed before the closing credits, though we know that’s never going to happen.

Credit here goes to Mark Wahlberg who has made a career out of playing tough, resilient characters who always painfully get up after being punishingly knocked down. It’s a role that works for him.

He’s in great shape and while he may not have an imposing stature his physicality is convincing. Put it this way-- he may not be the biggest guy in the room, but you’d never want to piss him off. And if looks could kill, you’d probably be dead. His intense stare is one of his trademark attributes.

The cast also includes one of my favorite actors, Alan Arkin, who is Alan Arkin in pretty much every movie he’s ever made. That’s not a criticism. I’m not sure there is a ton of range in his arsenal of acting chops, but there doesn’t need to be.

What he does, he does to perfection. I’m always delighted when he just shows up and plays himself. I remember seeing him in the Mike Nichols version of Catch 22 back when I was in college and was blown away back then by his unique screen presence.

It’s fun to watch him work, in just about anything he’s ever done, including his brilliant work co-starring with Michael Douglas in the Netflix series The Kaminsky Method, created by Chuck Lorre.

Winston Duke plays Spenser’s roommate who has taken over his old, rented room and won the affection of his beloved, aging dog while Spenser was doing time in the big house.

He’s the other half of this odd-couple, sort of buddy-cop-flick that we’ve seen a million times. It’s worked in the past, and it works here.

What works even better is the character of Cissy Davis, played by Iliza Shlesinger, Spenser’s foul-mouthed, tight-skirted, Boston babe with the saucy push-up bra.

I know, I know, she’s also a stereotype (like everyone else in this movie), but she steals every scene she’s in as the feisty, sexy, run-for-cover woman who makes Spenser bolt in fear every time he spots her. It makes for some great comedy and spontaneously hot public restroom romance.

Spenser Confidential isn’t a horrible movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s what you expect from movie studios like Netflix, trying to crank out some light, action-driven entertainment for its subscribers. No one here is going home with an Oscar.

The plot is a bit of a stretch to say the least. And, along those lines, why do the good guys in movies like this always at some point knock a gun out of a bad guy’s hands and then just leave it lying in the floor?

I know it sets up a hand-to-hand confrontation which is more cinematic and fun to watch, but just once, could somebody just pick up the gun and use it?

Spenser Confidential is your standard police drama about corruption, dirty cops, drugs, money and organized crime.

It’s a formula that is often re-worked and repeated because of its popularity and success. It provides some degree of escape from whatever is going on outside in the real world.

Spenser Confidential is a Netflix Original with precious little originality. In the end, we’ve seen it all before. It’s a movie remix of sorts, made up of spare parts of other movies that isn’t trying to be great—just merely entertaining.

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