He never got to play tough-guy private eye Spenser, but now Tom Selleck finds himself portraying another one of author Robert B. Parker's terrific gumshoe characters, and the role seems to fit him like a well-worn shoulder holster.
Selleck, who made his name as the laid-back, smart-alecky Thomas Magnum in a long-running 1980s TV show, Magnum P.I., stars in Stone Cold, to be broadcast at 9 p.m. tomorrow as the CBS Sunday Movie. He plays Jesse Stone, a former Los Angeles homicide detective who is now the chief of police in the small town of Paradise, Mass.
The two-hour movie is based on the fourth in Parker's series of books about Stone, a brooding lawman with a drinking problem and an ex-wife, neither of which he's able to put completely behind him. Stone isn't nearly as well-known as Spenser, Parker's signature character, who has been featured in several books and TV shows. But don't be too surprised if he someday achieves Spenser-like status.
This isn't the first time that the best-selling author and Selleck have teamed up for a film - Parker wrote the teleplay for the 2003 TV cowboy movie Monte Walsh, one of Selleck's most successful outings since Magnum ended in 1988.
But the two almost got together decades earlier, when Selleck was considered the front-runner to portray Parker's wisecracking and literate Spenser on screen. Because he was tied up with the Magnum series, though, he wasn't available and the film was never made. Instead, the late Robert Urich went on to assume the role in the TV series Spenser: For Hire and a handful of made-for-TV movies.
But if Selleck's performance in Stone Cold is any indication, he may have a future playing Jesse Stone - who one might argue is a more interesting character than Spenser.
As you might suspect in a Robert Parker story, everything is not exactly peachy in Paradise - especially when bodies begin turning up at an alarming rate. Things like that aren't supposed to happen in this idyllic little place, and the town fathers begin leaning on Chief Stone to hurry up and bring the serial killer to justice, or else call in the state police to take over the case.
The killer - or rather, killers - turn out to be bored yuppies targeting random victims for the sport of it. That's not giving away a plot point, since Stone quickly figures that out and spends the last half of the movie in a tantalizing cat-and-mouse game with the creepy duo (Reg Rogers and Jane Adams), who amuse themselves by taunting Stone, whom they mistakenly size up as a bearded version of Andy of Mayberry.
Even at the age of 60, Selleck still has that famous craggily handsome face, but his eyes, which are normally sparkling with mischief, are more somber here, and he doesn't smile much.
To show us that Chief Stone is an anguished, world-weary sort, he spends lots of time gazing somberly out over the Atlantic, or at the horizon, or at a bottle of scotch. Fortunately for viewers, the character also possesses a dry wit that shows itself from time to time.
More than once, somebody in his town is surprised to learn that Stone knows something he's not supposed to know. His deadpan explanation: "Because I'm the police chief - I know everything."
He also has a solid rapport with one of his officers, Molly (Viola Davis), and as she leaves the police station one night, Stone absently muses aloud through a mouthful of cheese pizza: "I know you're married, but maybe we could have an affair."
"I'll put you on the list," Molly shoots back over her shoulder, without even breaking stride.
To illustrate that he has a sensitive side, too, there's the requisite love interest for the chief. She's Abby (Polly Shannon), the city's legal counsel, who's about 30 years younger than Stone, but a kindred spirit nonetheless.
There's a certain sense of inevitability about the story line - we know these smug dilettantes aren't going to put one over on Magnum oops, I mean Chief Stone - but it's still fun to follow Selleck through the plot's twists and turns.
Along the way, he and Molly also wrap up another case involving a trio of high school punks who sexually assault a girl. When Stone allows the girl's father to exact a little frontier justice, it's one of the movie's most satisfying scenes.
Selleck and his producing partner, Michael Brandman, hold the rights to the rest of Parker's Jesse Stone novels, and we can only hope that more of them find their way to the screen. And if Stone could manage to lose the girlfriend who's half his age, that would be nice, too.
Contact Mike Kelly at: