No fools over at CBS, the net quickly followed one of last year’s best TV movies, “Stone Cold,” with this equally first-rate prequel, chronicling L.A. cop Jesse Stone’s downhill tumble to become chief in the tiny Massachusetts burg of Paradise. Tom Selleck is again pitch perfect as the world-weary Stone, and any movie where the real romance is between a man and his aging bloodhound can’t be all bad. As stated before, the role fits Selleck like an old Hawaiian shirt, auguring periodic trips to Halifax to reprise it.
Based on Robert B. Parker’s novels, the first pic involved a stunning murder spree in the quiet little hamlet. “Night Passage” goes back to Stone’s arrival, having been booted off the L.A. police force for being drunk on the job. He’s still a wounded soul, smarting from the dissolution of his marriage, though he and his ex indulge in latenight conversations filled with melancholy.
Cruising into Paradise, Stone shows up half-stoned for the interview, which makes him a little perplexed when the town’s heavyweight businessman, Hasty Hathaway (Saul Rubinek), hails him like a conquering hero. That suspicion grows when his predecessor turns up dead, suggesting some shady doings have preceded him.
The prequel also affords Stone a chance to begin breaking in his staff, which must grow accustomed to his little eccentricities, from bringing his dog to the office to settling a domestic dispute call by giving the pugnacious husband (Stephen Baldwin, with maybe the worst hairdo ever) a swift kick where it will do the most good. He also immediately begins a quickie affair with City Attorney Abby (Polly Shannon), which doesn’t prevent Hasty’s wife (Stephanie March) from propositioning him, promising something “very nice, and very uncomplicated.”
With director Robert Harmon back on the case, pic again masters a slow-rolling noirish tone though very little actually happens. Selleck is every bit the emotionally bruised hunk, sleepwalking through the job in a manner that conveys both lingering pain and a quiet self-confidence. Even in repose, he’s clearly someone no bad-guy would want to mess with. Think Alan Ladd in “The Blue Dahlia,” standing on an oversized crate.
There’s real poignancy, too, in his dealings with the rickety old hound, which lends resonance to the dog he adopted in the first movie — one of several nice little touches for those who saw “Stone Cold.” That pic was a surprise hit for CBS last February, proving that a TV movie doesn’t necessarily have to be full of bells and whistles to find an audience, especially when blessed with a rock-solid star.