Picture Perfect Mysteries is far from perfect, but it’s got a fresh vibe that separates it from other Hallmark mysteries. A lot of that comes down to its young, diverse cast led by real-life couple Alexa and Carlos PenaVega. The two set the tone for this series and bring a smoking chemistry that frankly is better than whatever’s going on in my life. Dead Over Diamonds, the second movie of the set, builds on the tentative relationship between photographer Allie and police detective Sam. It loses a bit of steam in the middle third of the story but roars back for a conclusion that even I, a hardcore couch potato sleuth, found surprising.
The latest case doesn’t concern a murder, at least not at first, so much as it does a theft. Allie is at the opening of an art show when some valuable diamonds, the Manchester Necklace, goes missing. Early suspects, like the collector’s brother, Patrick (Matthew Harrison), and greasy man-about-town Clint (Zahf Paroo) come up clean, but the search leads to others, some of whom weren’t at the gallery and some of whom were but whose names were left off the guest list. Determined to cast the widest possible net, the police also chase down a pickpocket (Ben Sullivan) and question some lady with a tattoo while trying to figure out if a wealthy man’s murder relates.
The sprawling web of suspects ends up working in the story’s favor and converges for a tidy resolution, but the case can get unfocused at times. The script drops random clues that neither build on what’s happened or contribute to the suspense. It also introduces Sam’s uncle Luis (Erik Estrada), a former Willow Haven detective and a boisterous presence but not one that’s altogether relevant. More problematically, the story keeps Allie and Sam apart for long stretches. This might better establish Allie’s relationship with her assistant, Noah (Trezzo Mahoro), and best friend, Maya (Sunita Prasad), who decide to carry out a parallel investigation. I like the women in particular, the way they rib each other as BFFs with no filter do. However, watching the PenaVegas make eyes at each other seems to be Picture Perfect’s raison d’être, and the movie doesn’t offer enough of these moments. The few times Allie and Sam are together, well, it’s hot and, at least once, very wet.
They two leads are the reason I can forgive the film’s narrative missteps. Carlos especially adds much to the series. He’s a great departure from the average cocky Hallmark cop, and I hope they continue to dive into his past, which involves some star-crossed love. Subdued and even a little shy, Sam isn’t someone who needs to be the hero all the damn time. He recognizes Allie’s intelligence and agency and knows it’s not really his place to object; a woman’s going to do what a woman wants to do. The awkwardness and tension between the two gives this thing life though. Their chemistry is fined tuned, and the PenaVegas know exactly how to play off one another. Allie and Sam, more than any other pair on this channel, capture the giddiness of romance while also solving some sick ass crimes.
Highlight for spoilers: Okay, so who saw this one coming? Not I. Turns out EVERYONE was in on the necklace heist, every last sneaky bastard except for Sherry, the pickpocket’s wife. Here’s what went down, Ocean’s 11 style. 1) Patrick wanted to steal the necklace from his brother, whom he resented because James got the bulk of the family estate. 2) He called Clint Baxter, who had a reputation for delivering on high stakes crimes, to do the actual stealing. 3) He also enlisted the help of schoolmate Thomas Wake, who needed the money and was willing to start a relationship with Gwendolyn. The plan was to frame her because everyone knew she wanted to claim back the family jewels. 4) Thomas asked pickpocket Gavin, the guy who once robbed him, to lift the security cards and keys on the night of the theft. 5) Griff, a disgruntled ex-guard, provided the team with gallery layouts and security details. 6) Mr. White, an actor, was there as both a distraction and a means to ferry out the necklace without detection via a paramedic’s bag. 7) Thomas is murdered by Clint when the former decides he’s really in love with Gwen and doesn’t want to carry through with the plan. 8) BUT James was actually the mastermind of the whole damn thing because he wanted to collect $10 million in insurance money and sell the necklace for double to a black market buyer. He enlisted his assistant to hire Mr. White. And that’s what went down.
Dir: Ron Oliver
Writer: Marcy Holland
Cast: Alexa Penavega, Carlos Penavega, Erik Estrada, Trezzo Mahoro, Paul McGillion, Marci T. House, Sunita Prasad, Debs Howard, Jesse Moss, Milo Shandel, Karen Holness, Zahf Paroo, Matthew Harrison, Shayn Walker, Claire Smithies
Time: 84 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries