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It is not hard to understand why director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg – here with Winston Duke – have melded together their meaty heads five times now.Daniel McFadden/Film 44 / Courtesy of Netflix

  • Spenser Confidential
  • Directed by Peter Berg
  • Written by Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland
  • Starring Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke and Alan Arkin
  • Classification R; 111 minutes

Rating:

2 out of 4 stars

Think back, for a moment, on the iconic collaborations of cinema: Scorsese and De Niro. Bergman and Ullmann. Godard and Karina. Almodovar and Banderas. And then there is Berg and Wahlberg.

It is not hard to understand why director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg have melded together their meaty heads five times now: First the similarities in their last names. It was destiny! But also, both possess a certain unstuck-in-time sensibility about what men want out of the movies: tough guys, tough broads and dialogue so tough that not even a strong-jawed super-chewer like Wahlberg could swallow it without a little Boston spittle coming out of his mouth. (Sorry, that should be pronounced as “Comin’ outta mah mowf”).

The two seem to enjoy working together almost as much as audiences inversely enjoy watching their output, which ranges from the passable (Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day) to the forgettable (Lone Survivor) to the unbearable (Mile 22). Sensing that this creative combination may be running on the fumes of Wahlberg’s motor mouth, traditional Hollywood gatekeepers appear to have now turned their backs on the pair, with Spenser Confidential, the latest effort from what I’m christening the Berg-Squared hive-mind, finding a home not in theatres but Netflix.

Spenser Confidential makes far more narrative and visual sense than the incomprehensible Mile 22.Daniel McFadden/Film 44 / Courtesy of Netflix

Premiering on the streaming giant is far from a black mark these days – why, the uber-team of Scorsese and De Niro did the same not three months ago – but it only takes five minutes of Spenser Confidential to realize we are far from Irishman territory. The new comedy-thriller, extremely loosely based on the books of novelist Robert B. Parker, moves and feels like a TV movie writ-large. The action is muted, the production design lacklustre, and the momentum engineered for frequent bathroom breaks and other household distractions.

Starring as Spenser, a Boston (check) cop (double check) who is fighting for the little guy (triple check), Wahlberg could perform this kind of street-wise hero in his sleep. So credit to the actor that he only appears half-slumbering here as he wades into a police-corruption tale that is only surprising for its complete and utter lack of surprise. Opportunities to enliven the genre proceedings abound, yet Berg and his team seemingly miss each one with perverse purpose, from flattening the choreography of Spenser’s many punch-ups to wasting the precious natural resource that is Winston Duke’s on-screen charisma. The Us and Black Panther actor seems content enough playing Spenser’s sidekick, yet the movie has a curiously masochistic concept of how far, exactly, his character should be kicked to the side.

Spenser Confidential makes far more narrative and visual sense than the incomprehensible Mile 22, and carries less of an America First odour than any of the pair’s previous partnerships. But it also proves that it is finally time that Berg and Wahlberg explored a trial separation. If you really love someone, guys, set them free.

Spenser Confidential is available to stream on Netflix starting March 6

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