'Jesse Stone' Review: Lost In Paradise, Found In Cozy Mystery

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

It was good to see that Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone TV-movies have found a home again, as Sunday night’s Jesse Stone: Lost In Paradise moved from CBS to the Hallmark Channel with a strong entry in the series.

It’s been three years since that last Stone movie, and two years since Selleck’s Stone has visited with his therapist-pal Dr. Dix, played by William Devane. Dix is the only character as grumpy as Jesse himself, which makes them good company for each other, and us. The Dix character is this franchise’s way to update us on Jesse’s life. Their chat informed us that Jesse, a high-functioning alcoholic, is trying to hold himself to two drinks a night and he’s lonelier than ever.

Stone is under-employed and, as he puts it, “I’ve lost my conscience,” a reference to his sense that he’s lost his way in life, and also that — SPOILER ALERT — Jesse’s beloved canine companion Reggie, whose baleful gaze Stone considered another aspect of his own conscience, has died.

The central plot was solving the murder of a woman believed to be the fourth victim of a serial killer dubbed The Boston Ripper and played by Luke Perry with horn-rim glasses and a hushed tone of voice. It was a cold-case Jesse volunteered to take on — he’s now taking orders from a police lieutenant played by Leslie Hope whose character’s name is actually Sydney Greenstreet, surely the corniest little joke these usually subtle TV-movies have allowed themselves.

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It was nice that Luke Perry and the team of Selleck and Michael Brandman (the duo wrote the script) didn’t go in for any Hannibal Lecter-ish portentousness in the presentation of this serial killer, but, really, the criminal cases in any Jesse Stone movie aren’t the point of the enterprise.

No, you watch a TV-movie about Jesse Stone — based on the character created by novelist Robert B. Parker — for its portrait of Jesse, a taciturn malcontent made charming entirely on the strength of Selleck’s quiet, authoritative, admirably un-showy performances. The actor seems to have a deep affinity to the Stone character, perhaps because Jesse allows Selleck to tap into a melancholy, meditative mood wholly unlike Selleck’s best-known TV roles, as private eye Thomas Magnum and Blue Bloods’ Frank Reagan.

(The only small vanity Selleck allows himself in these productions is having an unaccountable number of attractive younger women always ready to flirt or have dinner or sex with him. I counted at least four in Lost In Paradise, a mighty high percentage for a small-town cop pushing senior-citizenship, but believe me, I appreciate the fantasy.)

The Stone movies move easily through the conventions of hard-boiled fiction—when Luke Perry’s killer said, “You’re a tough guy,” Jesse responded with clipped terseness, “I’m tough enough.” But really, these movies are less hard-boiled than they are like another sub-genre of print mystery fiction: the so-called “cozy.” That is, the Jesse Stone films, like an Agatha Christie-Hercule Poirot exploit or a Rex Stout-Nero Wolfe novel, prompt their primary pleasures for an audience by doing variations on the same thing in every new adventure, but with just enough of a twist to keep things comfortably engaging.

And so, Lost In Paradise paid visits to characters we know and like from earlier Stone efforts, such as Devane’s Dix and Kohl Sudduth’s “Suitcase” Simpson, and increased Jesse’s dependence on the bottle just enough to provide more worry in a fan than any criminal danger Stone might have been in.

As I said at the start, I’m glad the Stone movies have found a new home at the Hallmark Channel, a channel whose target demo for these productions is probably right. Selleck has already signed on to do another one for the channel. I’ll probably watch and enjoy that one too.