This post contains spoilers for Spenser Confidential.
You'll be forgiven if you see the thumbnail for Mark Wahlberg's latest Peter Berg directed action movie in your Netflix feed and not immediately think, Ah, this must be based on a book! From its wall-to-wall classic rock music cues, including a Boston barfight set to "Sweet Caroline," to its shotgun blast of a finale, Spenser Confidential -- which follows Wahlberg's cop-turned-ex-con private detective Spenser as he solves his first case with his MMA-loving roommate Hawk (Winston Duke) -- doesn't exactly scream literary adaptation. But this goofy B-movie mines source material dating back to the 1970s, which might help explain the movie's sequel-teasing ending.
In an IP-obsessed era, it makes sense for Netflix to grab up a beloved figure from the pages of genre fiction and try to give him an update. Amazon has Bosch and Jack Ryan, two popular airport fiction staples; Netflix needs its own dad-friendly franchise. After teaming up on a string of ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, including 2013's combat thriller Lone Survivor and 2016's oil spill saga Deepwater Horizon, Berg and Wahlberg seemed to be looking for something a little lighter. The pair's last movie, the mostly tedious military shoot-em-up Mile 22, didn't really connect with audiences or critics, but clearly they're hoping Spenser Confidential will find viewers looking for a low-key, playful detective procedural movie to watch on a Friday night.
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The Spenser character, an ex-boxer private eye with a keen wit and a kind heart, was dreamed up by writer Robert B. Parker and made his debut in 1973's crime novel The Godawful Manuscript, which introduced Parker as a Korean war veteran. (His frequent partner Hawk didn't appear until the fourth Spenser novel, 1976's Promise Land.) From there, Spenser appeared in 40 different novels until Parker's death in 2010, when the series was subsequently taken over by writer Ace Atkins, who penned 2013's Wonderland, the book Spenser Confidential is actually adapted from. Previously, the character inspired a TV series in the '80s starring Robert Urich as Spenser and Avery Brooks as Hawk, as well as a trio of made-for-TV movies starring Joe Mantegna and Ernie Hudson. Spenser is resilient.
Given that background, it's perhaps most useful to think of Spenser Confidential like a TV movie. After a prison brawl opening, where Wahlberg fights off a fellow inmate played by rapper Post Malone, the movie sends Spenser out into the streets of Boston, where greets his cantankerous father figure Henry (Alan Arkin) and dodges his longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger). Before Spenser can even settle into his new life, the crooked police officer he was sent to prison for beating up ends up dead -- and, whaddayaknow, Spenser becomes a suspect. Naturally, he feels the need to get to the bottom of it, and you'll feel like you're watching the pilot episode of a network show, only with more cursing and a bigger budget for the occasional explosion.
The script, credited to Sean O'Keefe and L.A. Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland, spins an often complicated but not exactly compelling web of corruption that connects a casino, a drug-trafficking operation, and a crew of conniving cops. (You know a criminal conspiracy is elaborate if a movie feels the need to bring in Marc Maron to play a bearded investigative reporter living on a houseboat to explain it all.) Despite the different elements at play, it's easy to figure out who the real bad guy is from the minute he shows up on screen. Yep, it's Driscoll, the detective played by Fargo stand-out Bokeem Woodbine. Why establish him as a nice guy early on if you're not going to reveal he's actually up to no good?
A more curious moment arrives in the very last scene, right as you think the credits are about to roll. Spenser, Hawk, Henry, and Cissy razz each other over some lobsters at a local restaurant when something catches Spenser's eye on the TV. "An arrest has been made in connection with the arson at Saint Aidan's church," blares a news anchor. Spenser catches a guy he knows, firefighter Marty Foley, getting hauled away in handcuffs and claiming he's innocent. Spenser's nose for justice starts to twitch. He won't be riding off into the sunset in that semi-truck after all.
Again, it's exactly the type of semi-cliffhanger that would end a pilot, but there's no option to play the next episode as the credits roll. Will Netflix actually fund multiple Spenser movies? Obviously, there's no shortage of novels to adapt, but any continuation likely depends on the number of people who check it out in the coming weeks. While the streaming company has bankrolled a handful of sequels to some of their original movies, they've yet to find the big ongoing action series they're searching for. The previously announced Bright 2 could change that and they could certainly stay in business with Michael Bay by getting 7 Underground off the ground; those would be pricier plays. True to its humble origins, a Spenser series would be a little scrappier but potentially more lucrative.
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