You know, you live long enough, you have regrets. And the ones that nag at you the most are the ones where you knew you had a choice. The ones where you knew you could have stopped yourself. The ones where you looked into the mirror and everything good inside you said, 'Don't do this.'"
Sony Pictures has released the fourth Jesse Stone telemovie, Jesse Stone: Sea Change, based loosely on the Robert B. Parker novel of the same name, and starring Tom Selleck again as the alcoholic Los Angeles detective turned small-town, small-time East Coast sheriff. I missed the first Jesse Stone film, Stone Cold, but I quite enjoyed the next two: Jesse Stone: Night Passage and Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise. Jesse Stone: Sea Change is another solid, if perhaps familiar, entry in the series, and from what I understand, not the last. Selleck is currently filming another Jesse Stone movie, and that's just fine from this reviewer's standpoint.
Jesse Stone: Sea Change picks up from where Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise left off. Jesse (Tom Selleck), bored to tears writing parking tickets and turning to the bottle because of his inactivity, seeks out psychiatrist Dr. Dix (William Devane) again, who correctly identifies Jesse's problem: professional ennui. His suggestion for Jesse? Find a tough case to work on, to keep his mind off the booze. But there aren't any tough cases in Paradise, so Jesse asks rusty Deputy Rose Gammon (Kathy Baker), whom Jesse needs to retrain since Deputy Molly Crane (Viola Davis) is on leave for her pregnancy, to go through the cold case files, looking for any unsolved murders. She finds one: a bank robbery where the teller was taken hostage and then killed, her body buried in a shallow grave near the coastline.
Jesse's problems only multiply when he begins (literally) to dig for evidence at the victim's crime scene. Clothes are found that the previous sheriff missed; clothes with a bullet hole and blood stains. Searching back through the records, Jesse finds that the bank was managed at the time by Hasty Hathaway (Saul Rubinek), the disgraced, imprisoned councilman whom Jesse put away in the previous film. When confronted by Jesse about what illegal activities might have been going on in the bank, Hasty at first stalls, but then eventually confesses that money was laundered for mobster Gino Fish (William Sadler). Complicating matters, Jesse becomes aware that he has a tail on him: Terry Genest (James Rogers), the vengenance-seeking brother of a hood that Jesse put down in the previous movie. If that weren't enough, a local girl, Cathleen Holton (Mika Boorem) comes to Jesse's office and claims that she was raped aboard wealthy Harrison Pendelton's (Nigel Bennett) boat, with Pendelton's mysterious guest Sybil Martin (Sean Young) perhaps an eye witness.
According to fans of both the books and the films (I haven't read the novels by Parker), Jesse Stone: Sea Change is quite a bit different than its source material. Just having the previous movies in which to compare, Jesse Stone: Sea Change is probably the lesser of the attempts I've seen, but still worth a look, largely due to Selleck's accomplished, mournful portrayal of the troubled, depressed alcoholic cop, and the sustained moody tone that continuing director Robert Harmon (The Hitcher, Gotti) achieves again here. Adults looking for a low-key, somber, chamber-piece mystery (as opposed to the gore-fests that pass for cop/forensics shows on TV today), will no doubt enjoy the pervasive atmosphere of doom and gloom that Selleck and Harmon bring to Jesse Stone: Sea Change.
Where Jesse Stone: Sea Change falters, though, is in the actual mystery. Atmosphere and performance can smooth over a lot of bumps in the road, but anyone who's watched a few Murder, She Wrote (or Magnum, P.I.s for that matter), won't have too much trouble guessing the solution well before Jesse is allowed to here. Screenwriter Ronni Kern (who penned a terrible TV adaptation of Nora Ephron's Blue Smoke, which I previously reviewed) leaves a lot of loose threads hanging, including introducing a character, Sybil Martin (Sean Young, still looking good in a bikini), who's set up to be important, but who just fades away into the background (by the way, how is it that Young's shown cavorting on a boat in a bikini, but everyone else is shown wearing heavy winter coats, with dark, rainy nights and days that look decidedly autumnal?). As well, the whole Luthor "Suitcase" Simpson (Kohl Sudduth) subplot, who awakens from his coma with psychic abilities, is rather far-fetched and handled in an unsatisfying comedic fashion; it's out of place here with the morose, brooding ambience of the piece.
Still, it's always a pleasure to see Selleck delve further into the depths of depression as the wounded, downcast sheriff Stone. I've written it before, but Selleck really does have a "weight," a solidity of actorly chops that meshes quite nicely with his unmistakable star appeal. He has what the old timers had, that certain "something" that you immediately sense when he appears on screen. For this reviewer, who doesn't have a lot of time for newer actors who all seem like silly little boys and girls, Selleck's craggy face and large frame dovetails nicely with memories of Mitchum, Wayne and Gable, creating that kind of big-screen confidence and assurance you don't see in too many actors working on TV today.
The anamorphically enhance, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer for Jesse Stone: Sea Change is perfect, with correctly balanced color, blacks that hold, and no compression issues. Image is perfectly sharp and clear.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 is more than enough mix for this feature. All dialogue is heard cleanly, and we even get some nice speaker action during the final shoot out.
There are no extras for Jesse Stone: Sea Change. Too bad we can't have a commentary track by Selleck or Harmon for these films.
Dedicated mystery fans won't have any trouble figuring out Jesse Stone: Sea Change way before Selleck does, but that's beside the point in another introspective, dark Jesse Stone telemovie mystery. Selleck is perfect as the melancholy, self-destructive, alcoholic Stone; he's the whole show here. I recommend Jesse Stone: Sea Change.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.