Death Al Dente: A Gourmet Detective Mystery (2016)

The Gourmet Detective series returns with another great movie, which is why I’m willing to excuse its meaningless title. I’m not sure how an al dente death works anyway. San Francisco police detective Maggie Price (Brooke Burns) and gourmet detective Henry Ross (Dylan Neal) have a new case to solve when a shooting victim later dies at hospital. That victim is Leo (Ben Wilkinson), yet another one of Henry’s friends and a restaurateur. If this series had lasted more than four episodes, I’d be worrying about the state of the Bay Area’s (fictional) food industry.

The suspect pool is limited to a handful of intimate associates of the deceased. Matteo (Matt Hamilton), the restaurant’s new head chef, had been at odds with Leo, both over control of the kitchen and his relations with Leo’s wife, Claudia (Jordana Largy). Meanwhile, Dom (Andrew Dunbar), the sous chef and Claudia’s nephew, has a messy family history that gives him a motive. His father, Frank (Aaron Douglas), is Claudia’s estranged brother, making him a target of investigation as well. Sara (Camille Sullivan), an investor, seems innocent at first, until it’s revealed that she took out a $1 million insurance policy on Leo. Claudia gets thrown into the mix because she’s the wife, and always suspect the wife. But then again, the killer might well be the masked robber who previously broke into Leo’s restaurant.

The story keeps juggling its clues, and it never really eliminates any suspect until late in the game. Just when you think you know where the case is heading, there’s another random piece of evidence – a shredded letter from Italy, faked passports, an old painting – that sets you back a step. The case itself is sparse, however, leaving more room for character development

And man, have the characters developed. Maggie needs a television ad just so she can flaunt her new fab self. Though things aren’t that different from when we last saw her, she nevertheless has the air of a woman transformed. For the first time, she seems genuinely happy. Girl cannot stop smiling, especially when her ex-boyfriend and fellow detective, Steve (Chris William Martin), ends up working alongside her. It’s clear that those two still have an attraction, and it’s because they keep making googly eyes at each other that Henry begins to show cracks in his armor of ego. No longer the cavalier charmer, he’s instead jealous and worried, afraid that his usual tricks won’t work on Maggie.

I really enjoyed this new dynamic, and Gourmet Detective has been good about tweaking the relationship with each movie so that we always get something new. Though I was put off by Henry in the first film, he’s mellowed out and, having gotten to know Maggie and gained respect for her skills, has reeled in his condescension. While there was an opposites-attract vibe when they were initially paired together, now they’re beginning to act like a power couple. The two are increasingly in sync and their respective detecting skills complement each other. They still have a ways to go, but they’re bringing out the best in each other, and that’s what I like to see.

Highlight for spoilers: I told you it was the wife. Well, sort of. Claudia learned about a stash of diamonds after picking up a clue from the shredded letter. She decided to steal them from behind the painting and start a life without Leo, whom she didn’t love anyway. However, Leo messed up everything by coming back early from his walk. When he confronted Claudia, she accidentally shot him in the stomach, causing him to fall and hit his head. Frank found out somehow (sorry, wasn’t playing that close attention) and ended up killing Leo by dressing up as a nurse and injecting air into his IV. In the end, he also had a standoff with Claudia, trying to blackmail her for half the diamonds. Dom was the intruder at the beginning of the film and broke in because he had heard about the diamonds but didn’t know where they’d be.

Released: 2016
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Becky Southwell, Dylan Neal
Cast: Dylan Neal, Brooke Burns, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Mark Senior, Ali Skovbye, Samantha Ferris, Shannon Chan-Kent, Brenda Crichlow, Chris William Martin, Camille Sullivan, Jordana Largy, Ben Wilkinson, Matt Hamilton, Andrew Dunbar, Aaron Douglas
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019