A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spenser Confidential is an action-adventure movie with humor, based loosely on characters created by Robert Parker in his iconic series of Spenser novels, beginning in the 1970s. In this movie, clearly designed as the first in a franchise, Spenser is an entirely new incarnation of the Boston private detective. As written, and as played in a number of television productions, the elegant but hard-nosed private eye (i.e., Robert Urich in the long-running Spenser: For Hire on ABC) was a gourmand, an articulate quipster, a cerebral but lethal opponent, and in love with a classy psychologist. In the newest version, Spenser is a feisty, quick-tempered, unemployed Southie cop, in a relationship with a potty-mouthed dog groomer, and just released from prison for assaulting a superior officer (it turns out justifiably). This "origin" story finds Spenser on the brink of becoming a righteous investigator and introduces those who will be his allies. Violence is at the center of the movie. Viewers can expect the hero to overpower an army of enemies in any number of places. Savage beatings, machete-wielding drug dealers, car crashes, shootings, bloody bodies, fist fights play one after another, with a little time in between to move the story and play the jokes. A cat is killed and left hanging as a warning. A comical scene of sexual intercourse (without nudity) is shown and heard. Profanity is used throughout, with countless uses of "f--k," "s--t." Trinidadians are presented as stereotypical violent gangsters. Due to graphic violence and language, it's not appropriate for kids.
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What's the story?
Eager to get out of Boston and start a new life when he's released after five years in prison for aggravated assault, Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) just can't quite make the break in SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL. First, his mentor and friend, Henry Cimoli (Alan Arkin) wants Spenser's help in training a young boxer, Hawk (Winston Duke), with terrific potential. Plus, the corrupt police chief whom Spenser beat up is murdered the very day Spenser gets out. Events continue to pile up and keep him in Beantown, especially when a young cop whom Spenser knows to be clean "kills himself" and is outed as the police chief's killer. No longer employed by the city, Spenser feels responsible to Henry and can't help but want to clear up the mystery of both deaths. So, he puts his dream of being a long-haul truck driver on hold, continues an erratic relationship with his old girlfriend, and sets about to right an abundance of wrongs.
Is it any good?
This unimpressive, lazily-plotted update may disappoint old Spenser fans, but will possibly find new ones on Netflix. Mark Wahlberg is a natural in this role created for him, with pal Peter Berg directing. Around the fifth time Spenser is cornered and outnumbered by the bad guys, there's no suspense, really. Either he'll overpower them all, or the saintly sidekick will show up to save his sculpted fighter's body.
The good news is that everyone appears to be having a great time making Spenser Confidential. Winston Duke as Hawk may evolve strongly, though he's the polar opposite of Robert Parker's original body man. Comic actor Iliza Shlesinger lights up the screen every time she shows up, and at least there's suspense there -- what will she do next? And for some action fans, predictable is often comforting, as is watching bad guys of all shapes, colors, and sizes get what's coming to them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the extreme violence in Spenser Confidential. Do you respond differently to exaggerated violence than you do to serious, realistic violence? How does each type of violence make you feel? Why is it important to be aware of the impact of media violence on kids? Do you think the fact that the violence is over the top or comic makes a difference for kids?
Think about the marketing value of creating a "new" franchise from an already-existing popular one. Even if the characters are changed substantially, why is it a benefit to use the well-known names? Why do you think the character of Spenser was altered substantially? How might casting Mark Wahlberg in the role have had an influence on the filmmakers' choices?
Land developers, dishonest businesspeople, and corrupt law enforcement officers are often villains in movies. What negative character traits (i.e., dishonesty, greed) do they always seem to have in common? How do such stereotypes impact kids?
How is sex portrayed in the movie? Is it linked to love? Passion? Casual fun? What message does it send? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
- On DVD or streaming: March 6, 2020
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger
- Director: Peter Berg
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, language throughout and sexual content
- Last updated: March 20, 2020
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