Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Complex mystery; character growth
Cons: Usual Hallmark production issues
The Bottom Line:
Dessert contest judge
Proves to be dangerous job
In delicious film
Sweet Contest Leads to Sour Crime
I wish I could say I remember all details of books and movies I read years ago perfectly. Sadly, that isn’t the case. However, I have a feeling that might have actually helped me enjoy the latest Murder, She Baked movie, Just Desserts, more than if I’d read the book recently.
The town of Lake Eden is hosting a baking competition and Hannah Swensen (Alison Sweeney), owner of The Cookie Jar, is the head judge. Things are off to a shaky start, however, she Hannah sprains a knee falling down the stairs in her home and another judge gets food poisoning. That means that Coach Bishop comes in as a last minute substitute judge the day before the first round. The contest is being filmed at the local high school, and Coach Bishop is putting together a winning season with the basketball team, so this seems like a great cross-promotion.
Hannah’s friend Norman (Gabriel Hogan) is the assistant coach of the team, and he is there late one night before an away game. After he retrieves some basketballs for Coach Bishop, he returns to the parking lot to find Bishop dead on the ground. With someone having gone after three of the judges, Hannah thinks that is the motive. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, detective Mike Kingston (Cameron Mathison), thinks that the man was killed for another reason. Who is right?
This book is loosely based on Strawberry Shortcake Murder, the second book in the long running Hannah Swensen series. And I say loosely based solely because of feelings. As I hinted at the beginning of this review, I haven’t read this book since it came out in 2001. Naturally, this means my memories of the plot are hazy. I do know they changed the victim’s name (but not his occupation) and other details of his personal life. There is one plot twist that was missing from the movie as well. I don’t remember the original killer or motive. But I quickly realized I needed to set my ideas about the plot aside and enjoy the movie for what it was. After all, changing the title of the movie was a clue that they weren’t following the book too closely.
And I was able to do just that. I actually really liked the mystery that was presented here. The story has the twists and clues to keep me engaged and guessing. I was surprised by the outcome. I did think Hannah was on the stupid side at the climax, but it was very powerful.
Hannah’s sidekick is Mike more often than not in this film instead of the rest of the supporting cast, and that means they don’t have as much to do. That was disappointing since I love seeing the ensemble. However, it also gave us a chance to really get to know Mike, or at least the movie version of Mike. While I questioned some of his actions early on, I understood them by the end, and the character growth we got to see with him was very good.
This is another of Hallmark’s mystery movie franchises, so you know what comes next. Consider this my usual Hallmark movie cheese warning. But if you know that going in, you’ll be fine with the acting and writing.
Longtime fans of the book series know about the long standing love triangle between Hannah, Mike, and Norman. The movie franchise is obviously going in a different direction with things. It was to a certain extent surprising and another not when I realized just how they were resolving things. I’ll be interested in how this will affect more movies going forward in the franchise.
If you are looking at this movie to be faithful to the books, you’ll be disappointed. However, I’m viewing these as an alternative universe version of the Hannah Swensen stories, and as such I really enjoyed Just Desserts. If you can do that, I think you’ll be fine.