Continuing to excel in TV movie roles, Tom Selleck brings an easygoing charm to this surprisingly well-crafted crime yarn, whose bare-bones plot provides the framework for a crackling-good drama. Based on the Robert B. Parker novels, “Stone Cold” is so smoothly put together it’s not much of a stretch to foresee it becoming a series of movies or even an episodic drama, inasmuch as the title character fits Selleck like a comfortable old Hawaiian shirt.
Director Robert Harmon somehow brings suspense to a story that almost immediately reveals the identity of the killers, a yuppie couple murdering local inhabitants of the New England town of Paradise for sheer sport. The slayings are a first for the fishing hamlet, which fortunately has an ex-big-city police chief, Jesse Stone (Selleck), who despite battles with booze and a penchant for womanizing still knows how to crack a case. As for a B plot, Jesse also seeks to solve the rape of a teenage girl (Alexis Dziena) who is reluctant to testify.
Surly and sardonic, Stone zeroes in almost instantly on the culprits in each instance but must go through a process to bring ’em to justice, flanked as he is by relatively inexperienced personnel. He also begins a flirtation with an attractive lawyer (Mimi Rogers) defending one of the accused rapists.
The dialogue by John Fasano and exec producer Michael Brandman is economical and sharp, and Selleck instills just the right degree of world-weariness and detachment in his character, delivering most lines with an eyebrow slightly arched. Moreover, the actor (who also played a grizzled cop for CBS in last year’s mini “Reversible Errors”) has aged enviably well, looking as if he could still credibly be tooling around the islands as Magnum, P.I.
Pic also features nicely drawn supporting work from Viola Davis as one of his deputies as well as Jane Adams and Reg Rogers, who bring a creepy quality to the predatory husband and wife, transforming murder into a form of foreplay.
Beyond the exploitative-sounding title, this is a first-rate production from top to bottom — tough, old-fashioned and spare. While it’s not the kind of movie that resonates much past its airdate, all involved can derive satisfaction from having taken Parker’s novel and nailed it, stone cold.