The latest in crime novelist Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone stories aired last night on CBS. The 100 minute film based on Parker’s book was written for the small screen by Ronni Kern and directed by Robert Harmon. The fourth in the series of TV films starring Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone, the hard-drinking loner Chief of Police in the sleepy (but subtly murderous) New England hamlet of Paradise, last night’s installment began even slower than usual for the languidly paced series.

Jesse’s drinking is worse. In the first episode the ex-LAPD detective showed up for his job interivew as chief with liquor on his breath. Sea Change finds him still living alone with his faithful dog Joe and boozing it up over his ex-wife in LA. He seeks the help of ex-cop turned psychiatrist, Dr. Dix, played by William Devane in spectacular seediness. After listening to Stone whine for awhile Dix suggests Stone leave off the late-night  drunken phone calls to the ex and find some police work to get into.

Following doctor’s orders, Jesse opens a cold case involving a bank robbery in 1992 which involved the paltry sum of 24 Gs but got the woman teller of the bank killed. The robber got away. Meanwhile its Boat Week in Paradise, big business for the town fathers. Unfortunately one of the rich yachties who shows up on his big schooner seems also to be rapist. At least one of the town’s young women makes that charge against him. Stone and a female assistant pay a visit to the acused SOB and immediately are followed by a mysterious stranger.

This turns out to be the hoodlum brother of a guy with whom Stone had a fatal encounter in an earlier episode. This makes Stone think about the Boston Mob, who were launderng dirty money  through the bank in that earlier episode. Maybe there was a lot more than 24 Gs in the bank when it was robbed in 1992, only it wasn’t on the books. Who would know that? Stone quickly gets involved with the surviving sister of the slain bank teller and romance is once again in the damp foggy  air.

You have to credit Selleck for his portrayal of the world weary Jesse Stone. The word craggy no longer does justice to the Grand Canyon-sized fissures lining Selleck’s face. He somehow makes you stay tuned, wanting to see this damaged hero finally spring into action. I’m not sure whether to blame screenwriter Kern or novelist Parker for the glacial pace of the story. We are treated to a seemingly endless series of little investigatory scene of the obligatory sort, none of which have the least bit of drama but which convey the following: yes, the Boston Mob was laundering dough thorugh the bank; the rape story on the yacht is a fabrication; the teller who was thought to be killed is also the bank robber and is alive and Stone’s love interest. The viewer can see all these developments coming years before the creaking screenplay is done telling us about them.

The worst thing is the ending. There are certain cliches that drive me wild, like that the hero can’t see the guy crouching down in the back seat of his car when he gets in. Well, this is almost that bad. Jesse is alone with his dog Joe and having a few drinks to get over his world weariness and all of a sudden the hoodlum brother of the previously slain hoodlum is there in the living room shooting. He misses about four shots from ten feet away, drunken but unruffled Jesse rolls to the floor, grabs pistol and blasts bad guy while Joe looks placidly on.

Maybe Robert B. Parker doesn’t have a dog. My dog would have heard an intruder long before I could, and smelled him, even earlier, especially if he was an adrenaline-soaked killer, and gone crazy barking and snarling long before he could get in the house let alone sneak into the living room. I guess Joe isn’t much of a watch dog. Once again Parker phoned in the ending and by so doing insulted his audience.  

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