“Thin Ice” — Tom Selleck’s fifth outing as Robert B. Parker’s small-town police chief Jesse Stone — maintains the bluesy, breezy tone established by this crisp series of movies, and leaves threads dangling that lead directly into the sixth, “No Remorse.” Dark, busy and disarmingly funny, the Stone made-fors have become an unexpected franchise for CBS, helping keep the broadcast movie barely flickering while showcasing the star-producer’s impressive durability as a rugged if emotionally wounded leading man.
A former big-city cop, Selleck’s Stone has taken refuge in the small New England town of Paradise, but his disheveled life seems even more complicated than usual.
Jesse’s drinking draws rebukes from his snarling psychologist (William Devane), and he’s hitting the bottle a little harder since learning his estranged, heard-but-not-seen wife is thinking about moving in with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, Jesse gets caught in the crossfire when someone tries to murder his police-captain buddy (Stephen McHattie) in Boston — prompting him to investigate whodunit, while introducing him to an attractive internal-affairs investigator named Sidney Greenstreet (Leslie Hope), doubtless somebody’s inside joke.
Finally, the mother (Camryn Manheim) of a missing baby visits Paradise, having received a postcard from the town reassuring her, “Your child is loved.” Jesse is reluctant to get involved in pursuing the tabloid case — to the dismay of his subordinate Rose (Kathy Baker) — and he’s having trouble with the City Council, which is pressuring him over extended absences and failure to enforce revenue-generating parking and speeding ordinances.
As directed by Robert Harmon from a script by Ronni Kern (with story input from Selleck and fellow producer Michael Brandman), all these plots play as oddly incidental — really an excuse to watch Selleck breeze through the role, delivering dry one-liners and dispensing his own brand of justice. A bit like old Bogart movies, Jesse casually drops funny asides, such as telling Rose after her target practice squarely hits the cutout’s crotch, “That one would have definitely ruined someone’s evening.”
Perhaps foremost, these movies represent the perfect venue for Jesse’s exploits — too modest to survive theatrically, while destined to strain credulity (Paradise is a tiny hamlet, after all) if they had to drum up enough mayhem to justify a weekly series.
What’s left, then, is a smart, well-paced, finely cast little package, which in addition to Devane’s nagging shrink leaves you wanting more of William Sadler as a dapper crime boss.
The only real problem, frankly, is that the titles always sound like something from the bargain-DVD bin — and “Thin Ice” is no exception. Besides, it’s even something of a misnomer: Sure, the plot goes every which way, but with Selleck as its foundation, the “Stone” series remains rock solid.