The seventh “Jesse Stone” movie opens in such dark, dour and deliberate fashion as to bring CBS about as close as it’ll ever get to Ingmar Bergman territory. Before long, though, , somebody the main character knew turns up dead — providing the requisite murder mystery for another crisp drama, featuring Tom Selleck as the immensely flawed cop plagued by all sorts of baggage. Writing and producing with Michael Brandman, Selleck has turned the Stone movies into a true showcase — one that grows richer as he layers on new players while retaining the colorful recurring ones who pass through Jesse’s orbit.
Having lost his job as sheriff of the small town of Paradise when the last movie ended, Stone opens the latest pic bored, out of work, half-assedly trying to exercise, and worrying that his faithful Golden Retriever (the canine actor of the year) might be as depressed as he is.
When a young girl who Jesse once tried to help is found dead of a drug overdose, he can’t resist pursuing the case, despite warnings from his former employees Rose (Kathy Baker) and Luther (Kohl Sudduth). Meanwhile, his pal the Boston homicide chief (Stephen McHattie) again enlists Jesse to look into a murder investigation there, offering additional distraction from his morose mutt, unseen ex-wife and ongoing battle with alcohol.
The real fun in the franchise now, however — which has moved beyond Robert B. Parker’s books — is that having established a baseline, the movies bring back the odd lot from previous adventures, including shadowy mobster Gino Fish (a wonderfully oily William Sadler), shifty businessman Hasty Hathaway (Saul Rubinek) and Jesse’s shrink Dr. Dix (William Devane). Opposite Selleck, these scenes play like understated little gems, deftly mixing snappy dialogue and humor, mostly flowing from Jesse’s “I don’t give a damn” attitude.
Although the franchise looks even lonelier with CBS and the Hallmark Hall of Fame severing ties, the Stone series will continue beyond “Innocents Lost” (not the most inspired title as puns go) with another movie beginning production. That framework allows the writer-producers and new director Dick Lowry — a last-minute substitute for Robert Harmon — to take their time, letting the plot slowly unfold.
Granted, the audience for these telepics — much like Selleck’s series “Blue Bloods” — tends toward the retirement-village set, but just because they’re older doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And the simple pleasures provided by the ongoing union of Selleck and Stone is enough to elicit grins, especially for a genre that’s become as difficult to find on the major networks as a grumpy Golden Retriever.