Film Review: Spenser Confidential (dir by Peter Berg)

Spenser Confidential, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is the latest Mark Wahlberg/Peter Berg collaboration.

It’s a crime film and it’s set in Boston and it will probably remind you every other Boston-set crime film that you’ve ever seen.  It’s got all the usual ingredients.  People sing Sweet Caroline.  A fat gangster wears a tracksuit.  We get a long overhead shot of the streets of Southie and there’s a scene set in an Irish bar.  One of the film’s big scenes takes place at what appears to be a deserted racing track.  (I’ve never been to Boston but, just from the movies, I know that the city is basically made up of Harvard, Southie, and hundreds of deserted race tracks.)  The Red Sox get a shout-out.  And, of course, the movie stars Mr. Boston himself, Mark Wahlberg.  Seriously, if your Boston movie doesn’t feature Mark Wahlberg or an Affleck brother, it might as well just be a St. Louis movie.

In this one, Mark Wahlberg plays Spenser.  Spenser was a cop until a gangster in a tracksuit murdered someone from the neighborhood and the head of homicide tried to bury the case.  This led to an angry Spenser beating the man up in front of his own house.  Spenser was sent to prison, where he served five years as an ex-cop in the general population.  That’s right!  He wasn’t even put in protective custody but somehow, he survived.  Right before Spenser is released from prison, he’s attacked by a Neo-Nazi who is played by Post Malone.  It’s not really that relevant to the overall plot but it does give viewers a chance to say, “Wait a minute …. is that Post Malone?”

Anyway, once he gets out of prison, Spenser moves in with his mentor and former boxing coach, Henry Cimoli (Alan Arkin).  He also gets a new roommate, an aspiring MMA fighter named Hawk (Winston Duke).  After Captain Boylan,  the head of homicide — yes, the same guy that Spenser beat up five years ago, is decapitated by 20 sword-carrying assailants, Spenser is the number one suspect.  Fortunately, for Spenser, another cop commits suicide and it’s quickly announced that the cop who killed himself also killed Boylan.  It’s a murder/suicide!  So, Spenser’s off the hook and I guess the movie’s over, right?

Nope, it doesn’t work like that.  It turns out that Spenser has his doubts about the whole story and he wants to investigate because he has “a strong moral code.”  Unfortunately, as a convicted felon, Spenser is not allowed to become a private investigator.  So, Spenser and Hawk conduct an unofficial investigation, which largely amounts to talking to Spenser’s former partner, Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine) and getting into a brawl while Sweet Caroline plays in the background.

It’s a Boston thing.

The mystery are the heart of the film pretty much leads exactly where you think it’s going to lead.  For a 2-hour crime thriller, there aren’t exactly a lot of twists and turns to be found in Spenser Confidential, which is a problem.  The mystery’s solution is so obvious that it’s hard not to resent the fact that Spenser is apparently too stupid to figure it out on his own.  There’s an extended scene where he gets attacked by a dog and you know what?  That would have never happened to any other movie detective because every other detective would have figured out who the murderer was long before getting attacked by that dog.

On the plus side, Peter Berg knows how to stage a fight scene and he also knows how to make the best use of Wahlberg’s mix of sensitivity and working class arrogance.  Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is let down by a script that doesn’t give them much to do.  Winston Duke is physically imposing as Hawk but he spends too much of the film standing around and waiting for Spenser to take the lead.  Alan Arkin appears to be having fun in the role of Henry but again, his character is underwritten.  About the only person, other than Wahlberg, who gets to make much of an impression is Iliza Shlesinger, who is cast as Spenser’s ex-girlfriend.  Shlesinger may be playing a stereotype (she’s loud, crude, and has a thick Boston accent) but she fully embraces the character and makes her seem like the only person in the film who actually has a life beyond what’s happening onscreen at any given moment.

Anyway, Spenser Confidential isn’t terrible as much as it’s just forgettable.  It’s a generic Boston crime film and you can probably safely watch it if you’re not looking for something to which you would actually have to pay attention.  Some of the action scenes are well-shot.  If you liked Mark Wahlberg in other films, you’ll probably like him in this.  Whether you enjoy it or not, you’ll probably forget about this film about an hour after watching it.

Double Jeopardy (1992, directed by Lawrence Schiller)

Salt Lake City is riveted by the sensational murder trial of mountain climber Lisa Burns Donnelly (Rachel Ward).  Lisa killed her ex-boyfriend, Eddie.  She says that she did it in self-defense after Eddie raped her.  The prosecution claims that she murdered Eddie after he caught her cheating on him with another man.  Lisa’s lawyer, Karen Hart (Sela Ward), is up for a judgeship.  Her husband, Jack (Bruce Boxleitner) is Lisa’s ex-boyfriend.  What Karen doesn’t know is that, other than Lisa, Jack is the only person who witnessed what happened the night of the murder because, just moments before, he and Lisa had been committing PG-13-rated adultery in her shower.

One of the interesting things — in fact, maybe the only interesting thing — about Double Jeopardy is that several online sellers claim that the film stars Aaron Eckhart.  It is true that Eckhart is in the movie.  It was shot in Salt Lake City while he was a student at BYU and it was his film debut.  However, Eckhart has about a minute of screen time and about five lines.  He plays a Marine named Dwayne who someone meets in an airport.  His big line is, “Semper Fi, babe!”

As for the film, since it’s set in Salt Lake City, there’s a lot of talk about how Lisa is being unfairly judged for her unconventional (read: non-Mormon) life style and there’s a heavy-handed subplot about Jack trying to put on a production of The Crucible but it doesn’t add up too much.  It would probably have been easier for the movie to make a point about religious and moral persecution if Lisa wasn’t actually guilty of murdering Eddie.  Instead, the movie leaves you thinking, “Maybe those Mormons have a point.”

Double Jeopardy tries hard to be something more than your standard legal thriller but it’s pretty forgettable.  Rachel Ward was always a great femme fatale and Sally Kirkland gives a good performance as the cop who sees through both Lisa and Jack.  The film was produced for Showtime at a time when cable was still trying to prove that it could provide original content worth paying for so there’s some cursing and sideboob tossed in, as if to say, “See?  You don’t get this on NBC!”  Otherwise, this is a by-the-numbers made-for-TV movie.

Spring Breakdown: Sand Sharks (dir by Mark Atkins)

“There ain’t no party like a Sandman party!” Jimmy Green (played by Corin Nemec) announces in the 2012 film, Sand Sharks, and he’s right.

Jimmy is infamous for throwing (or, at least, attempting to throw) big parties and organizing wild festivals.  This movie was made before the Fyre Festival but watching Jimmy as he runs around and assures everyone that he’s about to put together the greatest music festival that the world has ever seen, it’s hard not to be reminded of the determined and incompetent people who were behind that legendary disaster.  Then again, no one was eaten by a shark during the Fyre Festival.  Jimmy can’t make the same claim about his parties.

In fact, when we first meet Jimmy, he’s trying to rebuild his reputation after his previous party ended in tragedy.  Apparently, 15 people died at that party and, though we don’t get all the details, it’s insinuated that they were eaten by sharks.  Jimmy isn’t one to let shark-related tragedy get him down, however.  Instead, he’s doing to put on another Sandman Festival and this time, he’ll keep everyone on the beach and out of the water!  Fortunately, for Jimmy, his father just happens to be the mayor of a beachside community.

Unfortunately, it turns out that sharks aren’t just in the ocean.  There’s also on the beach, swimming underneath the sand.  They’re sand hharks!  Now, the movie does provide an explanation for why all of those sharks are moving around underneath the sand but it’s really not important.  The important thing is that they’re out and they’re eating just about everyone that they meet.  That’s going to be a problem as far as the Sandman Festival is concerned.  Fortunately, Jimmy and the authorities are able to kill one sand shark.  However, when Jimmy discovers that there’s more than one sand shark, he keeps that news to himself.  The show must go on!

You can probably guess what happens next….

The sand sharks are a lot of fun and this SyFy film provides plenty of spring break mayhem as festival goers are yanked under the sand but, for me, the main attraction of this film is seeing Corin Nemec just unleashed like a force of nature.  Nemec starts the film going at about 100 miles per hour and he doesn’t slow down for a single second.  As played by Nemec, Jimmy never stop talking and he never stops hustling and he’s so committed to putting on the greatest festival ever that it’s impossible not to like him, even if his actions do end up getting a lot of people killed.  Nemec seems to be having a lot of fun with the role of Jimmy and it’s just as much fun to watch him.

Of course, Jimmy isn’t the only character in the film.  Brooke Hogan plays Dr. Sandy Powers, who is a shark expert.  At one point, Sandy looks out at the beach and tells Sheriff John Stone (Eric Scott Woods) that “We’re stuck between a rock and a shark place,” and if you don’t cheer for that line, I worry about you and your sense of humor.  As that line indicates, Sand Sharks is a film that cheerfully embraces the ludicrousness of it’s storyline.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you.  This is the type of film where people often snap, “Bite me!” right before a shark leaps out of the sand and does just that.  This is pure entertainment and, if you’re a fan of SyFy shark films, Sand Sharks is a lot of fun.  Between the sand sharks and Corin Nemec playing the hipster-from-Hell, what more could you want?

Music Video Of The Day: Sad Song by Blake Lewis (2009, dir by Ana Veselic)

I can still remember the night when it was announced that Blake Lewis has lost the sixth season of American Idol to Jordin Sparks.  That was when the world stopped making sense to me.  Nothing against Jordin but how, I wondered, could she have won while Blake was so cute and adorkable!?  It just didn’t make sense to me!

Of course, the judges were never on Blake’s side.  During the final weeks, when it became obvious that the finale would be Blake vs. Jordin, the judges went out of their way to nitpick every performance that Blake gave.  It upset me.  I spent a lot of time that March calling and voting for Blake.  When he lost, American Idol lost me as well.  I’ve never voted since and, of course, I’m now actually an adult so it would hard for me to justify still caring about the show at this point.

(My cousin-in-law Ronny used to say that he would only watch American Idol to see the judges be mean.  Once they stopped being mean, he lost interest.  He had the right idea.  Reality competition shows are so positive now that I have a difficult time watching them.  For instance, last year, I nearly threw my shoes at the TV while trying to watch an episode of America’s Got Talent.  The whole thing where the judges are all crying and going, “YOU!  You are what this competition is about!” is just so creepy and weird.)

Anyway, Blake continued to make music even after losing American Idol.  This is his video for Sad Song, which came off of his second studio album, Heartbreak on Vinyl.  The video is meant to recall both 40s film noir and 80s video glitz and I think it succeeds fairly well.  Blake’s co-star in the video is Casey Carlson, who was featured during the 8th season of American Idol.


(Speaking of sad songs, my vacation’s nearly over!  Boo hoo, says I.)