Despite a being on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum from him, I’ve always had a strong affinity for Tom Selleck. Magnum P.I. is still one of my favorite shows of all time, and aside from some short shorts and dated hairstyles, it holds up remarkably well even today. Hell, I even watched his stink on Friends.
Lately Magnum’s most regular gig has been in a series of TV movies produced by CBS, based on the Jesse Stone novels by Robert B. Parker, who also wrote the novels that Spenser for Hire was based on. There are nine Jesse Stone novels, seven made for TV movies, three that are not based on a novel, and three that Selleck wrote the screenplay for (though these last two are not mutually exclusive).
Jesse Stone: No Remorse is the most recently aired installment in this ongoing franchise (a new chapter was filmed this past winter, though no air date has been determined). Selleck reprises his role as Jesse Stone, a hard-drinking, small-town sheriff in Paradise, Massachusetts. In the midst of a suspension that occurred in the previous film, Stone has gone into a self-imposed exile where all he does is drink scotch and wear ugg boots.
I’m not kidding about the ugg boots. He’s in a bad place. His ex-wife keeps calling, pretending that they are friends, his deputies aren’t allowed to talk to him, and he feels impotent, unable to help investigate a string of violent convenience store robberies.
A serial killer in nearby Boston provides some distraction when Commander Healy (Stephen McHattie) hires him as temporary consultant, but in reality the diversion only whets Stone’s appetite for crime solving.
There are two parallel story lines, the convenience store robberies in Paradise, and the series of murders in Boston. Even with this storm of action going on around Stone, there’s little narrative thrust to the story. Neither plotline is explored in any meaningful way, and there is little depth to either. There is no sense of urgency at all, and for a movie that postures as a tense, psychological thriller, it does not live up to the expectations the filmmakers create.
Too much time is spent on minor, background characters that appeared in previous episodes. In a novel there is ample room to devote to lesser players that don’t have any impact on the larger narrative, but in an 87-minute movie you can’t squander that much time. There isn’t enough space for there to be a weird little subplot with everyone in town, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try.
Beyond that, every character has to be needlessly quirky. There is gay mob boss Gino Fish (William Sadler), ex-con/used car salesman Hasty Hathaway (Saul Rubinek) who wears a light-up bowtie, and Hasty’s ex-wife who wants to bang Stone. There is a deputy named Suitcase, yes, Suitcase, a college drop out convenience store clerk that Stone is unusually friendly with, a nun that Stone has some sort of sexual past with, and his shrink, Dr. Dix (William Devane), who is more like a fishing buddy than a mental health professional. Each cast member gets an obligatory peculiarity.
Every single one of these characters, and more, have some unarticulated history with Stone. They are not even subplots. They’re little loose threads that should be plucked out of the story. Their distracting sub-stories make No Remorse feel like a meandering collection of awkward encounters that are both unexplained and have no bearing on the primary story.
There is even time devoted to the uncomfortable relationship between Stone and his dog, Reggie. I wish I were joking. There are multiple scenes where Reggie (ably played by Joe the dog) stares longingly at Stone, who is unable to return the love. You can see the pain of unrequited love in Reggie’s eyes.
You’ve seen Stone before. The character is an amalgamation of nearly every hard-boiled trait you can think of. He is an alcoholic. He has been suspended from his job. It is implied that he may be suicidal. He has more faith in instinct than “fancy degrees”. He listens to classical music on vinyl while sitting alone in a room, drinking scotch, talking to his golden retriever as if it were a real person.
At one point he even pulls his phone out of the wall, a feat that leads to an awkward running gag about his new cell phone. Essentially he is a stereotypical troubled cop, haunted by demons and obsessions that are ultimately what drives him, what makes him very good at his job.
There’s a lot of room to work with stock characters like Stone. Our collective knowledge of the detective as archetype can yield interesting results, it can be something to build on, to play with, to expand on and explore. The problem with No Remorse is that Stone is nothing more than a type. Everything he says sounds familiar because it’s all been said before. Everything he does looks familiar because it has all been done before.
In 2010, it’s simply not enough to be this formulaic. The result is that the entire movie feels like watching a mediocre episode of a mediocre cop show.
Selleck and the other screenwriters try to make the dialogue sound like something a detective would say, but like everything else, it topples into cliché. There is no subtext to the conversations or interactions. In fact, the characters speak almost exclusively in what would normally be subtext. If there is supposed to be sexual tension, they voice it. If one character is afraid for the safety or wellbeing of another, they say so. If one character thinks another is a murderer, they tell them as much to their face.
In Jesse Stone: No Remorse, nuance and subtlety has been replaced by the obvious and transparent.
The DVD of Jesse Stone: No Remorse comes with no extras. I was hoping for an in-depth featurette exploring the nature of Stone’s relationship with Reggie, but alas, I was disappointed.