It started with unflappable British spy James Bond heading for the hills as “No Time To Die” moved from a mid-April release to late November.
Within the last week, film studios have been shelving their biggest upcoming releases with Disney’s “Mulan” postponed indefinitely and Universal’s ninth “Fast and the Furious” film pushed to 2021 amid growing concerns for public safety due to the coronavirus outbreak globally.
As ardent film fans stay away from their local movie theaters, one studio hopes to reel in all the attention with a full court press of new releases. Netflix, the streaming service now doubling as its own production house, will have released 17 new feature films in the first four months of 2020, compared to 18 major releases from the six other large studios combined.
For films still in theaters, box office numbers have sharply dropped relative to expectations across the board due to lower attendance with most films falling by 60% or more from the previous week.
One film that would have been affected by this economic downturn is Mark Wahlberg’s new crime dramedy “Spenser Confidential” from longtime collaborator and director Peter Berg, a middling, uneven flick that would be considered a massive bomb if it opened in theaters last weekend.
Luckily, it’s the number one most watched film on Netflix according to the streaming service as audiences stay home and give a movie they probably wouldn’t consider paying to see a shot.
Based on the 80s private-eye TV series “Spencer for Hire” and the novel “Wonderland” by Ace Atkins, “Spenser Confidential” follows Wahlberg as former Boston cop Spenser, fresh on the streets after serving a five-year prison sentence for assaulting a superior officer. When that officer and another detective are brutally murdered, Spenser cannot look away and privately investigates the crimes with the aid of his roommate, Hawk.
The title role is a perfect summary of what Wahlberg is best at as an actor: no-nonsense toughness with a dry wit and casual charm. There isn’t much to the role, nor Wahlberg’s performance for that matter, but the movie fits the actor’s strengths to a T and makes the overall movie-watching experience better than if the role were played by a younger, less confident actor.
His brash, standoffish demeanor puts him at odds from a chemistry perspective with Winston Duke, whose equally tough-guy persona as Hawk clashes with both actors essentially trying to be the alpha in the relationship. Duke, relatively unknown by comparison to Wahlberg despite memorable roles in “Black Panther” and “Us,” takes a backseat for the most partbut there is still an unease that never really cements into an engaging relationship.
This isn’t the case with Wahlberg and Alan Arkin, playing Spenser’s mentor Henry with ease and a brilliant sense of comic timing. Their chemistry is naturally and effortless, making for the most engaging, entertaining sections of otherwise listless action fodder.
Because so many viewers have a Netflix subscription for other reasons – binging television shows, access to classic movies, etc. – turning on “Spenser Confidential” feels like playing with house money. A byproduct of this is diminishing viewer expectations, a film watched on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu doesn’t have to be as remarkable, or in some cases, good at all. It just needs to be worth time because it feels free to watch.
In this context, “Spenser Confidential” is definitely a film checking out for movie-fans social distancing and self-quarantining due to coronavirus. It’s not great, nor a movie that needs to be seen on a big screen, but in this time of uncertainty, any casual distraction that can allow people to turn off their minds and relax is a welcome reprieve.