|Jesse Stone:Night Passage & Death in Paradise
Starring: Tom Selleck, Stephanie March, Stephen Baldwin, Polly Shannon, Saul Rubinek, Edward Edwards, Viola Davis, Vito Rezza, Kohl Sudduth, William Devane
Director: Robert Harmon
Since the departure of “Magnum, P.I.” from the airwaves, Tom Selleck has never ventured terribly far from the small screen. No, we haven’t forgotten how he spent the late ‘80s and early ‘90s attempting to carve out a motion picture career for himself. Frankly, that should be viewed as a testament to our memory, given how forgettable films like “Folks!” and “Her Alibi” were. Conversely, Selleck’s role as Dr. Richard Burke on “Friends” is locked in our minds as a great comedic turn, and, frankly, we really liked his short-lived 1998 sitcom, “The Closer.”
As of this writing, there’s talk that Selleck may be joining the cast of NBC’s “Las Vegas,” but, on the whole, we’re not really rooting for that; we’d much rather see him continuing to play Jesse Stone, the small town police chief created by novelist Robert B. Parker. The first TV movie about Stone was 2005’s “Stone Cold” (ho, ho), and its success was such that the producers – one of whom is Selleck himself – decided that they might as well go ahead and adapt some of the other novels Parker wrote about the character.
Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006)
First up: the flashback. In “Night Passage,” we take a step backward and learn the story of how Stone made his way from Los Angeles all the way across the country to Paradise, Mass. Seems that Stone got drunk on the job, a condition which came about as a result of his wife cheating on him. Although there was no way he was ever going to be able to continue as a member of the LAPD after that, his reputation was otherwise impeccable, which led him to be able to score a position in Paradise. As it turned out, the biggest reason Stone got the job was because the town manager figured he had a useless drunk on his hands and could therefore continue to get away with the criminal activities going on in Paradise. This theory didn’t exactly evaporate when Stone showed up for his interview with booze on his breath. Stone’s fellow police officers come across as just plain folks rather than country bumpkins, which makes for far more believability. Sure, they doubt his capabilities and question his “big-city ways,” but they’re intelligent enough to trust his methods when it becomes obvious that they get the job done. It’s hardly a spoiler to suggest that, by the end of “Night Passage,” Stone’s taken care of the corrupt official, but the film is far more of a character study than a police drama. Selleck plays Stone in a low-key, depressed way, occasionally flipping the portrayal slightly to remind the locals that just because he’s depressed doesn’t mean he won’t still beat the shit out of you if you break the law. Meanwhile, he’s still on the phone with his ex-wife every night, trying to figure out exactly where things went wrong in his life. The most telling character moment for Stone, however, comes not with a human but with his dog, providing a reminder that even the biggest, toughest man in the world can be brought to tears when his puppy gets sick.
By the time “Death in Paradise” rolls around, Stone’s pretty well ensconced in Paradise, though, given that it’s a small town, he still has people coming up to his police cruiser, asking how that drinking problem is coming. As it happens, Stone’s taken to visiting a psychologist at the recommendation of his ex-wife, and the doctor in question is played by William Devane. He plays the role in just the right gruff manner, since you can well imagine that a guy like Stone wouldn’t readily take advice from anyone who actually tried to be nice to him. The major crime this time comes to light when the body of a straight-A student turns up, with a connection to the Boston mob. On the local front, Stone’s also dealing with a case of spousal abuse that goes horribly wrong. It’s a testament to the writing that, even though it’s a small town, we don’t get a “Murder She Wrote” feel about there being so much crime. In the TV movie format, we’re not visiting the characters every week, and there are plenty of dialogue references to the fact that stuff like this doesn’t happen all the time.
Of these two flicks, “Night Passage” is definitely the strongest, given that it provides such an in-depth exploration of Stone’s past, but both make for solid viewing. While it might be nice for Selleck’s career if he scored that “Las Vegas” gig, we just hope it doesn’t affect his output on the Jesse Stone front. This is too good a role for him to throw away.
Special Features: Disappointingly, there’s nary a one to be found on either disc, well, unless you still count previews of other Sony releases as special features. But I don’t think anyone does anymore, do they? (Obviously, that’s a rhetorical question, because of course they don’t.)