There are bad cops, and there are bad movies, and there are bad Boston accents, and there are bad movies about bad cops featuring bad Boston accents, namely “Spenser Confidential,” a bad movie about bad cops featuring bad Boston accents that also adopts the brand name of Robert B. Parker’s famous first-nameless private eye in order to attract that franchise’s built-in audience — even though the movie’s Spenser, played by Mark Wahlberg leaning fully into his Boston working-class type, is more of a Wahlbergian light-action hero with Popeye gym muscles than anything resembling Parker’s original creation.
“Spenser Confidential,” which is available on Netflix on Friday, is like a CBS crime procedural drama stretched out to an hour and 50 minutes. It’s formulaic-and-proud-of-it material that, because it’s based on writer Ace Atkins’s Spenser-based novel “Wonderland,” is a cousin twice removed from Parker. There are good guys who bond over boxing and high-strung Southie women, and there are bad guys who beat up their wives when they’re not running drugs and trying to make free money, and never the twain shall meet. The movie is as black-and-white and simplistic as a checkerboard. Look into the faces of the actors cast as bad cops in “Spenser Confidential” and you’ll know they’re as dirty as the Standells’ river Charles; their evil souls are written into their physiognomy.
The movie, director Peter Berg’s fifth with Wahlberg, gives us Spenser after a five-year prison stint for assaulting one of those bad cops in the front yard of the guy’s suburban McMansion. He takes refuge in the Southie triple-decker owned by friend and boxing gym owner Henry Cimoli, played by one of the movie’s easy pleasures, Alan Arkin. In one scene, he, Spenser, and Spenser’s dog (a beagle named, of course, Pearl) are living on the third floor, but later they’re living on the first floor, so it’s not exactly clear how much room Henry actually has in his home; but Spenser nonetheless has to share a small room with twin beds with the movie’s Hawk (Winston Duke), a promising boxer who quickly becomes Spenser’s Watson. Spenser is longing to become a truck driver and move to Arizona, but within the first 30 minutes he’s chasing down a cop killer. Just when he thought he was out, you see, they pull him back in.
Spenser’s former girlfriend, the feisty Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) with the movie’s biggest accent, still hasn’t forgiven him for going to prison — but, naturally, she still loves him, and at one point they have loud sex in the bathroom of the Life Alive on Commonwealth Avenue while Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” blasts over the soundtrack. In the middle of their passion, so that the entire broth-sipping greens-crunching restaurant can hear, she repeatedly yells out “Go Sox,” one of the movie’s many attempts at humor. At another point, as Spenser is being viciously attacked by a dog — although, miraculously, without much blood — I felt as though the movie was trying to tell me it was funny to watch the long melee, at the end of which Spenser yells to the owner, for some reason, “You better neuter that mutt.” Tonally, it just didn’t jibe.
Wahlberg has made a career of these kinds of forgettable movies, with their car crashes and fistfights and shallow sentimentality. He’s very much a busy working actor who rarely steps outside his comfortable genre roles anymore to do something more interesting. In “Spenser Confidential,” he is clearly at home with the material and, given a scene at the end of the movie, hoping to turn his Spenser into a franchise. And he may succeed, with Arkin, Shlesinger, and Duke as a kind of Frickin Pissah Four. The rest of the cast, including Marc Maron in a handful of scenes as a Boston Globe reporter and Post Malone (billed as Austin Post) as a convict, barely register.
Boston, too, is very much a supporting character, and the location shooting (look, it’s the Zakim Bridge!) offers some passing entertainment for locals. We even get a clip of bad cops beating up Spenser to the tune of Sox classic “Sweet Caroline.” You know, the Neil Diamond song with the lyrics “Good times never seemed so dumb.”
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Iliza Shlesinger, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Post Malone, Bokeem Woodbine, Marc Maron, Colleen Camp. On Netflix, available Friday.