The fourth entry in the “Jesse Stone” movie franchise picks up seamlessly where the previous installments left off, as Tom Selleck’s brooding portrayal of Robert B. Parker’s troubled, boozing cop is fast becoming the winner of an elimination contest, “Last Network TV Movie Standing (Non-Hallmark Edition).” Solving cases is actually peripheral to these telepics, which are really about watching Selleck inhabit a character wrestling with inner demons. For a network that has largely bailed out of the made-for-TV movie biz, credit CBS with recognizing a good thing when they stumbled onto it.
Infused by Jeff Beal’s hypnotic score, “Sea Change” finds Stone — the big-city cop whose drinking problem landed him as sheriff in the small New England town of Paradise — bored out of his mind writing parking tickets, tormented by thoughts of his ex-wife and hitting the bottle. He’s so desperate that he again seeks help from a therapist (William Devane), who tells Stone that he’s at his best when busy on the job, and “For all intents and purposes, nothing happens here.”
In an attempt to break the monotony, Jesse and his new gal Friday, Rose (Kathy Baker) reopen a cold case about a bank shooting 15 years earlier. As side plots, a young woman has claimed she was raped on a bigwig’s yacht, and someone appears to be tailing Jesse.
Director Robert Harmon and writer Ronni Kern allow the action to unfold slowly, at the kind of languid pace that might prove off-putting if Selleck wasn’t so consistently interesting as Stone — cracking wise, flirting with women and responding to disapproving looks from his ever-present golden retriever while belting down Scotch. (Once again, the dog merits best supporting canine consideration.)
The latest movie also benefits from being layered upon the prior ones, garnishing the cast with cameos for Saul Rubinek as a town leader who Jesse put behind bars, and Viola Davis as the sheriff’s former deputy.
Foremost, though, the Stone series exults in Selleck’s old-fashioned leading-man qualities, as well as the freedom to create a noirish world where the whodunit elements take a back seat to the atmosphere. In that respect, these movies occupy a space between features and episodic crime procedurals by daring to indulge in moments of quiet, which perhaps explains why a segment of the audience — generally older, and surely more discriminating — has responded to them so enthusiastically.
The May sweeps airdate amounts to a modest vote of confidence, and there’s one more existing Parker title yet to be adapted. So barring an unforeseen reef, “Sea Change” should be enough to keep Stone rolling.