It took half a year, but we finally have a mystery I can get behind. After five new series launches, Hallmark hits the sweet spot with Picture Perfect Mysteries. We’re not talking Foyle’s War or Grantchester levels of satisfying, but Newlywed and Dead is a solid mix of writing, acting, and smoking hot chemistry. It’s the first project from Alexa and Carlos Penavega, who also produce, that feels like a natural match for their skills.
What I like about the movie doesn’t actually have to do with the case, but it’s a competent whodunit all the same. Allie (Alexa Penavega) is photographing the wedding of her friend, Jenna, when the groom, Kevin (Kurt Szarka), is shot seconds into the first dance. He is killed in front of all the guests, but the main suspect seems to be Allie’s brother, Greg (Jon Cor), who may not have even been at the wedding. He is Jenna’s ex-boyfriend, however, and showed up unannounced at the rehearsal dinner, so Kevin’s family is quick to blame him.
Allie is sure her brother didn’t commit the crime, but her protestations don’t have much affect on Detective Sam Acosta (Carlos Penavega). It’s not that he doesn’t believe her but that he’s waiting for evidence that will exonerate Greg and point to another suspect. When that’s slow in coming, Allie has to start her own investigation. She pokes around, talking to anyone who might offer some clues about Kevin, Jenna, or her brother. Soon she has a handful of new motives and suspects for Detective Acosta to look into, lines of inquiry that include a shady groomsmen, bad business dealings, even Kevin’s own father. Jenna’s not free from scrutiny either; her husband’s family is convinced her intentions are less than genuine and that she’s a gold-digging waitress at heart.
As much as I enjoyed the resolution, which Allie took care of all on her own, thank you very much, I really enjoyed the details that set Picture Perfect Mysteries apart from most other Hallmark series – details like a diverse cast. Besides the two leads, Allie’s assistants, Noah (Trezzo Mahoro) and Maya (Sunita Prasad), and Acosta’s superior (Marci T. House) are also people of color. At the moment, they don’t have too much personality, but I’m crossing my fingers for the next installment. Anyway, it’s the most melanin on a crime-fighting team since Kimberly Williams-Paisley’s law office in Darrow and Darrow, and I need that.
The best parts of the movie though are the ones where the Penavegas are just chilling, doing their couple thing. It’s a big improvement over their last film together, Love at Sea, which was a mess on a whole other level and which wasn’t helped by their forced, stilted romance. This performance wipes away that bad memory and reintroduces us to the real-life pair as the low-key, sexy hotties they are. I like Allie’s personality, which is equal parts sweet and steely, and it helps that Alexa underacts a little; drama queen sleuths make me want to throttle someone. But if we’re being honest, Carlos and his reserved, slightly awkward detective are what really grabbed my attention. A recent transplant from New York City, Acosta is adjusting to life in a small town. One has the feeling that he’s using work and his new environment to get away from things and to steal some alone time. We all need a friend though, and I want to know if my small town has any lonely Acosta-like detectives who need some company.
Highlight for spoilers: The groom’s sister, Sarah, accidentally murdered her brother while trying to kill her new sister-in-law. She missed hitting Jenna only because Kevin dipped his wife during their first dance. Sarah blamed Jenna for her and her family’s problems. Not only was Jenna a source of tension between Kevin and his dad, but Jenna had also started to come between Sarah and her new boyfriend, Greg (yes, Jenna’s ex). When Greg realized he still had feelings for Jenna, he ended his relationship with Sarah.
Dir: Ron Oliver
Writer: Marcy Holland, Walter Klenhard
Cast: Alexa Penavega, Carlos Penavega, Trezzo Mahoro, Jon Cor, Paul McGillion, Pippa Mackie, Marci T. House, Sunita Prasad, Lindsay Maxwell, Keith MacKechnie
Time: 84 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries