Tuesday, January 21, 2020

An Unrecognizable Spenser?

Page 45 of Ace Atkins’ 2019 Spenser novel, Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes, features a brief exchange between the veteran Boston private eye and a film producer in Hollywood. After inquiring whether Spenser has come all the way out to Los Angeles in hopes of peddling his life story to television, the producer suggests that changing “a few details” in Spenser’s biography might help sell the idea.

“Like what?” asks the P.I.

“You’re too much of an old-fashioned good guy,” says the producer. “White knight and all that crap. I’d make the hero fresh out of prison.” That minor alteration, he suggests, might give the character some valuable “mystery and edge.”

One presumes that by the time Atkins wrote those lines, he was well aware of what the screenwriters behind Netflix’s forthcoming film, Spenser Confidential, had in mind for his protagonist. As The Hollywood Reporter explains, this teleflick—set to debut on March 6, and starring Mark Wahlberg as the mono-monikered Spenser—“follows ex-cop Spenser …, who, after being let out of prison, gets roped into helping his old boxing coach and mentor, Henry (Alan Arkin), with promising amateur Hawk (Winston Duke). When two of Spenser’s former colleagues are murdered, he recruits Hawk and his ex-girlfriend, Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), to help him investigate and bring the culprits to justice.”

Wahlberg claimed, during a recent interview with Ellen Lee DeGeneres, that this Netflix project is “based on one of my favorite TV series as a kid, Spenser: For Hire.” However, a trailer for Spenser Confidential bears little, if any, resemblance to that 1985-1988 ABC crime drama starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks. Nor does it seem to have much in common with Atkins’ 2013 novel, Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland, which marked the return to print of Parker’s best-known character (after the author’s death in 2020), and from which Spenser Confidential was reportedly adapted. Instead, Wahlberg and fellow producer Neal H. Moritz (one of the people behind the Fast & Furious movie franchise) have filled Spenser Confidential with video-game-paced violence and other shallow distractions, and have turned Spenser and Hawk into the stars of yet another throwaway “buddy picture,” not unlike the rebooted Hawaii Five-O.

Wahlberg says that with so many Spenser novels from which to draw material (48 so far), “we’re hopefully doing a couple more” movie adaptations. Maybe so, but don’t count on me watching. As a longtime fan of the books, I prefer my Spenser with more charm, compassion, and sly wit, and less “mystery and edge.”


E. Ellis said...

What they are doing to Spenser is one of the reasons I was not drawn to the movie or TV version of Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger character. Love the books, but they took so much "artistic freedom" in the visual adaptations that, though I did watch the movie, I had no interest even looking at the television show.

And I think Lee Child finally "got it" when it came to the Reacher movies and finally came around (though I think he irked a lot of fans with the interviews he gave about Cruise's role in the movies - how at first he basically told his fans to just accept it, shut up and move on).

Tom Leins said...

I read and reviewed Wonderland recently, not knowing about the movie, and it was a fantastic book. Top-notch stuff! Hawk doesn't even feature in the book, which gives you a clue how different the film is likely to be! I'm intrigued regardless.

Mike Doran said...

Elsewhere, we have seen what HBO plans to do with/to Perry Mason.
This is what happens when the Powers-That-Be get all "scientific" about our favorites, on and off the page.
"They" always have an explanation/excuse for taking a character known and loved by generations, and changing everything about him to please some specific (and largely nonexistent) demographic.
If you're not going to do the character - why buy the name?
The old-line fans won't like it.
The newbies will wonder what all the fuss was about.
The "new show" won't work - and a few years down the road, "They" will all get together and make the same mistakes all over again.

(Makes you think, doesn't it?)