Netflix has made a deal with Mark Wahlberg, Peter Berg and the Robert B. Parker estate to bring back for a potential series of feature films Spenser, the poetry-spouting, wisecracking boxer-turned-Boston-based private eye made famous in 40 novels by Parker, and in three seasons of the ‘80s TV series that starred Robert Urich.
The first film will be an adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland, one of the eight Spenser mystery novels written by Ace Atkins, who took over the series after Parker died in 2010. The movie will differ from the novel, in that it begins with Spenser emerging from a prison stretch, stripped of his private investigator license. Here, he gets pulled back into the underbelly of the Boston crime world when he uncovers the truth about a sensational murder and the twisted conspiracy behind it.
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Neal Moritz will produce through his Original Film banner, along with Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Berg, the latter through his Film 44 banner. Script has been written by Sean O’Keefe. Toby Ascher will be exec producer alongside Film 44’s John Logan Pierson.
I have probably read all of the Spenser novels, and don’t recall the boxer-turned-cop-turned-gumshoe being on the wrong side of prison bars, so that is a departure. Though Urich had the rugged good looks ascribed the character by Parker, Wahlberg seems a better physical match for him than Urich; in Parker’s books, Spenser was a rising competitive boxer until he got pounded to a pulp by former champ Jersey Joe Walcott. Wahlberg’s work in The Fighter showed he can certainly pull off the tough guy part of the character.
The hope of Netflix and the filmmakers is to make this more than just a one-off. In the 40 books that Parker wrote and in eight so far by Atkins, there is plenty of mythology, a strong moral code held by the wisecracking detective, and intriguing characters surrounding him like another former boxer named Hawk, the impeccably dressed enforcer for mobsters who often served as Spenser’s wingman in particularly dangerous cases, as well as Henry Cimoli, the gym owner whose dilemma figures mightily in the Wonderland novel; and there is Spenser’s long romance with the shrink Susan Silverman, and an array of bad people.
There is also a fervent love for the city of Boston, its good food and alcohol. So much alcohol, in fact, that when I once had lunch at the Russian Tea Room with the late Urich while he was promoting his part in the classic miniseries Lonesome Dove, I told him I was disappointed when he ordered tea. I thought of him as Spenser while reading the books, and said that Spenser would have downed two beers already.
“If Spenser drank as much as Robert B. Parker wrote he did,” Urich told me, “he would have looked like Robert B. Parker.”
The Spenser character was later played in a few TV movies by Joe Mantegna.
Wahlberg and Berg are frequent collaborators who memorably covered Boston in Patriots Day, the drama about the investigation and manhunt for terrorists who detonated explosives at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013. They’ve also teamed on Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, the upcoming STX release Mile 22, and potentially The Six Billion Dollar Man at Warner Bros.
Raised in Dorchester, Wahlberg has made an emphasis of participating in Boston-based films that have also included The Perfect Storm, The Departed, The Fighter, Ted and its sequel. While promoting Patriots Day and noting that his output in Boston-centric films was eclipsing that of favorite sons Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Wahlberg told Deadline “There are so many great stories to be told here. There are so many great characters. They’ve done a great job, those guys. I think I’ve made more movies about Boston than them, but we can all co-exist. They can have Cambridge and everything on that side of the bridge. And everything this way, towards the hood, that is mine. I’ve been to their neck of the woods. I’m not sure they’ve spent that much time in mine.”
Now, he’ll get another chance to use the colors of that city (unless they cheap out and shoot in Canada) in reviving the Spenser mystery series, with enough past books to provide a blueprint for a reasonably priced series of movies that could add a new dimension to the streaming service. Another tough guy Parker series revolving around the brooding police chief Jesse Stone, has become a periodic CBS telepic with Blue Bloods star Tom Selleck playing the cop.
The Estate of Robert B. Parker was represented in negotiations by Mary Alice Kier and Anna Cottle of Cine/Lit Representation; O’Keefe is repped by ICM Partners, Brian Lutz Management and Bloom Hergott; Berg is WME and Hirsch Wallerstein; Wahlberg is WME, Leverage Management and Sloane Offer.
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