Jesse Stone: Sea Change



9-11 p.m., Tuesday, May 22

Here's what usually happens when a character becomes the hero of a TV movie franchise: All character development grinds to a halt after the first movie. After that, success largely depends on whether the stories are clever. The Jesse Stone franchise, with Robert B. Parker's former L.A. cop who becomes police chief in a small New England town, is the exception.

In "Sea Change," the fourth movie featuring Tom Selleck as the brooding, alcoholic lawman, the character keeps right on evolving. And the stories? They're not intricately plotted or even terrifically suspenseful. No one falls passionately in love only to find it wasn't meant to be. There's no big payoff as the guilty party is unmasked and justice triumphs.

Ronni Kern, who did the teleplay, is unfettered by those conventions. Nonetheless, her adaptation gives Stone just enough to do to stay occupied, to keep moving forward, to make us wonder when or if he will ever have the psychological breakthrough even he knows he needs.

Selleck owns this character. Stone is a man of few words, but that's plenty for Selleck. His stoic expression reveals Stone's pain, loneliness and frustration as plainly as if it were part of the dialogue. Even the way Selleck carries himself, seemingly weighted down by past grief, gives insight into Stone's deceptively complex makeup.

The big story in "Sea Change" is Stone's exhumation of a cold case, an unsolved murder from 1992, which was the last time someone got away with it in the tiny harbor town of Paradise. Stone's reasons for reopening the case have less to do with a thirst for justice than finding a creative outlet for his energy and intellect. He knows that, without something like this to occupy him, he is likely to retreat further and further into his whiskey bottle.

There's also a story about a girl who claims she was raped during a party on a rich man's yacht, a kind of seaside take on the Duke lacrosse team incident. Even without the ocean backdrop, the story smells fishy.

Robert Harmon, who directs, captures the natural beauty and the unquenchable boredom of Paradise. He benefits from Selleck's intimate knowledge of the hero, but Harmon makes his own contribution, framing scenes to exploit the power of nature and matching the pace of the action to Stone's internal mechanism.

This fall, Selleck will join the cast of NBC's "Las Vegas" as a mysterious billionaire who buys the casino. When that happens, it will be good to remember his subtle work in this soulful movie.

TWS Prods. II and Brandman Prods. Inc.
in association with Sony Pictures Television
Executive producers: Michael Brandman, Tom Selleck
Producer: Steven Brandman
Co-producer/director: Robert Harmon
Teleplay: Ronni Kern
Editor: Chris Peppe
Music: Jeff Beal
Set designer: Brian Enman
Casting: Mary Jo Slater, Steve Brooksbank
Jesse Stone: Tom Selleck
Rose Gammon: Kathy Baker
Dr. Dix: William Devane
Hasty Hathaway: Saul Rubinek
Molly Crane: Viola Davis
Sybil Martin: Sean Young
Cathleen Holton: Mika Boorem
Leann Lewis: Rebecca Pidgeon
Luther "Suitcase" Simpson: Kohl Sudduth