Friday, January 28, 2005

A Stone Cold lock

Thanks to Bob Ames at Bullets and Beer, the Web's preeminent site for information about the novels of my favorite mystery author, Robert B. Parker, I'm eagerly looking forward to the telefilm of Parker's Stone Cold. Based on the fourth in Parker's series of books about small-town police chief Jesse Stone, Stone Cold airs on CBS (the only major network whose initials represent truth in advertising) Sunday, February 20. A good cast, featuring Tom (Magnum P.I.) Selleck, Mimi (the first ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise) Rogers, and the vastly underheralded Viola Davis, stars.

It's interesting that after all these years, Selleck is finally playing a Parker hero on screen. In the '80s, he was hotly rumored to be starring as Parker's signature character, the one-named private detective called Spenser, in a feature film based on the novel Early Autumn. Due to Selleck's Magnum commitment, the film never got off the ground, and the late Robert Urich ended up making an indelible impression as Spenser in the TV series Spenser: For Hire and a gaggle of telefilm sequels.

After Urich's untimely death from cancer, actor Joe Mantegna picked up the mantle, appearing as Spenser in three A&E cable flicks that should be avoided like a big mean guy you owe money. Mantegna doesn't make an awful Spenser — though he's too slight of build and much too New York Italian to be convincing as a Boston-Irish ex-prizefighter, he adds the right tone of smart-alecky toughness — and Marcia Gay Harden is infinitely superior to any of the actresses who played Spenser's girlfriend Susan Silverman before her. But the scripts for the three Mantegna Spenser films are execrable, the direction is even worse, and the producers — who included Parker and his wife, which is why it's stunning that the movies are so dreadful — never found an actor who could replace the charismatic Avery Brooks as Hawk, Spenser's deadly comrade-in-arms.

Jesse Stone is more or less a younger (at least in the books) Spenser with a badge and a drinking problem, so it will be interesting to get a flavor of what Selleck might have done with the role of Boston's greatest detective. I'll be watching.

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