Hallmark romance movies are something I watch so I can amuse my mom with light chatter; Hallmark murder mysteries are something I watch to recover, because while there is still love to be had, at the end of day, there’s also a whodunit to solve. Murder, She Baked looks to be a successful franchise for the network, which wants to expand into your kitchen. Based on a book in a series by Joanne Fluke, the first movie, A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery, sounds like a really good ploy to get viewers to cozy up with a fuzzy blanket and a cup of hot cocoa.
It introduces us to Hannah Swensen (Alison Sweeney), the owner of a popular bakery in tiny Lake Eden, Minnesota. Her sister, Andrea (Lisa Durupt), is a fashionable interior designer and her mother, Delores (Barbara Niven), is a meddler. While Andrea is unwittingly drawn into her sister’s crime solving adventures, Hannah is unwittingly drawn into her mother’s matchmaking schemes. Our heroine is more than content, however, to tromp around in her hiking boots and play mommy to her pet cat.
Several things converge when she gets set up with the hot dentist (Gabriel Hogan). Her childhood friend, Ron, is killed outside her shop and a hot homicide detective (Cameron Mathison) from the city comes to investigate. Upset over Ron’s senseless death, Hannah does what any good friend would do: she tries to solve the murder. She’s already something of an amateur sleuth, helping the local police crack a few petty crimes, and she uses her budding relationships with both dentist Norman and officer Mike to search for more clues.
It’s the usual suspects as far as murder mysteries go, which is good or bad depending on what you want from these things. Could Ron’s death have something to do with an illicit romance or some other shady behavior? What about the cantankerous owner of the local dairy for whom he worked? As Hannah gets closer to the killer, could her life be in danger too?
A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery hardly has the gravity of the more highbrow stuff over at Masterpiece Mystery! You won’t ponder great moral questions like you might while watching Foyle’s War (my favorite show ever, by the way), but it does a fair job doing what it wants to do: bring out a sense of small town intrigue. Again, there are shows that do that better – Marple comes to mind – but none that impart kitchen-inspired life lessons. “Baking can be like art….or an adventure.” “The person doesn’t choose the cookie; the cookie chooses the person.”
Actually, I’m not sure what that’s about, but Sweeney delivers these nuggets of wisdom with confidence and calmness, and I’ve totally bought into her portrayal of Hannah. Unlike the devious, duplicitous Sami Brady, who she played for years on Days of Our Lives, Hannah has Minnesota nice all over. Sweeney makes her character easily identifiable; she’s warm, smart, independent, and she never runs out of cookies or cake. Hannah’s feisty exchanges with Mike also have some fire, but considering how grossly condescending he is to her when they first meet (“That’s why you’re a baker and I’m a homicide detective.”), I was hoping for a more forceful dressing down and some sustained tension. Instead, Mike begins to see the baker as a useful partner, and future installments promise more cooperation. I suppose it’s all for the better though; no one wants to see Hannah upbraided by a crime-fighting jerk.
Prod: Harvey Kahn
Dir: Mark Jean
Writer: Donald Martin
Cast: Alison Sweeney, Cameron Mathison, Lisa Durupt, Barbara Niven, Gabriel Hogan, Susan Hogan, Linda Darlow, Meredith McGeachie, Douglas Chapman, Jason Cermak
Time: 83 min
Country: United States