Having never seen the eighties TV show, the experience of watching the umpteenth collaboration between Wahlberg and Berg is akin to a preview of a new pilot. Brian Helgeland’s efficient if bland script is quick to define the quirky characteristics of the protagonists; Mark Wahlberg’s eponymous ex-cop is about to re-enter society having been imprisoned for battering a corrupt wife-beating police chief, Alan Arkin’s father-figure mentor owns the gym where Spenser works out and Hawk, played against type by a thoughtful Winston Duke, has the imposing presence of a Mr T and the glibness of Huell from Breaking Bad.
The screenplay provides blandly familiar archetypes, from the mouthy ex-partner to the hateful and stupid ex-colleagues, whose reactions to Spenser decking the wife-beater seem forced and unrealistic. When the wife-beater is brutally murdered, and one of Spenser’s old buddies framed for the murder then suicided, the plot finally kicks in. The ever welcome Bokeem Woodbine is the only success in this generic mediocrity, finding fun little moments as the only cop left on the force with any time for Spenser, and evoking memories of his turn on Fargo.
The problems arise with Peter Berg’s rather perfunctory action sequences which seem more suited to Jack Reacher or John Wick. Moments where our hero dispatches a room of assailants make more sense when the lead is supposed to be special. First-timer Sean O’Keefe and Helgeland make no such distinction or highlight any particular special skills that Spenser is supposed to have, which leaves the viewer wondering, ‘Are all Boston cops super heroes?’
O’Keefe’s prior experience was in video game scripting, so this may explain the inclusion of such excessive violence, despite the premise being something between Magnum P.I and The A-Team. The casting of Iliza Schlesinger is also a little troubling, with the stand-up openly riffing with the actors as opposed to the characters. At times she doesn’t appear to be reacting to anything occurring in the plot, or with any sense of the stakes involved. She shows up to shout and berate Spenser before seducing him just to remind the audience that our hero is also a stud.
There is a horrifically out of place Batman motif in which she describes Spenser’s efforts to investigate the corrupt cops as ‘Batman shit’ and Alan Arkin as ‘Alfred.’ You get the impression that Berg and Wahlberg find Schlesinger hilarious but it doesn’t translate on this occasion. Fortunately Schlesinger has a considerable number of upcoming projects so she will get plenty of practice to improve her schtick.
Available on Netflix now.