A young bakeshop owner’s holiday season takes a surprising turn when she finds a body at a local Christmas tree lot and winds up involved in a dangerous murder investigation. With colorful characters popping up as suspects, shady business practices uncovered at the tree lot and holiday romance in the air, the young baker-turned-sleuth must race against time to track down the killer and save the Christmas season.
Welcome to the second installment of the scrumptious movie series Murder She Baked, based on the book series by Joanne Fluke. If you are interested in reading my review of the first movie, check it out here. Because I absolutely adore Barbara Niven, I was drawn to this series even before I saw it the first time. And it is this tantalizing trio that makes the movie series such a sumptuous sensation. While the first film was pleasurable, this one took that level engagement to an entirely new level of entertainment.
Hopefully, viewers who saw the first in the series will remember Gabriel Hogan as one of Hannah’s aspiring suitors, Norman (of course, he has appeared in a score of other things as well, including Heartland.) And yet again, Gabriel plays the somewhat bland, boring, but good-looking dentist who is out to capture Hannah’s affections. He has stiff competition from the impressive police detective in town (whom I will discuss in a few moments). Lest you think I don’t appreciate Gabriel’s characterization of Norman, the words I use to describe him refer to his character, not him. He is the perfect foil for Mike Kingston since Norman is dependable, serenely charming, financially secure, and head-over-heels for Hannah. Gabriel has carefully crafted his interpretation of this character, and I for one, find his acting quite masterful. It cannot be easy to play such a restrained character opposite Alison Sweeney’s spirited Hannah character, but he is able to infuse all that is needed to keep in character and even cause some of the viewers to side with his character on whether he should win the adoration of the eligible Hannah.
I’m sure Hearties will recognize Johannah, but her resume is quite lengthy. As a seasoned professional, Johannah brings her A-game in the role of Kimberly White. Although her role is rather minute, no one can doubt exactly how essential she is to the eventual deciphering of “who-done-it.” Johnannah’s professionalism is fully evident in this role, and I think you will appreciate the strength of character and conviction she brings to every scene she shares with the principal actors. She is a force with which to be reckoned, and it is exquisite to see her in a role with true grit and passion.
Reprising her role as Delores’ other daughter, Andrea, is Lisa Durupt. I find her interpretation of the somewhat flighty, flippant, but good-natured character a sincere delight. This intriguing trio are so much fun to watch on the screen, and as per normal, the second time around, all three are even more comfortable in their respective roles than they were in the first film. In this film, not only does Hannah have to deal with her mom butting into her love life, but Andrea is, too. Of course, the audience discovers that the meddling Delores is also insinuating herself into Andrea’s life (you’ll understand when you see the film), but at least Delores is consistent. There is a fun scene between Andrea and Hannah that you must watch for–it is one of my favorite scenes in the film as we are treated to the typical adult sister relationship as played out in the proverbial “sleepover.” It is cute and funny, and I feel like as a result of that scene, I know Andrea just a little bit better.
No stranger to Hallmark, Cameron returns as the dashing Detective Mike. Cameron is one of those actors who just exudes charisma, nonchalance, and amicability the moment he walks onto the screen. It doesn’t hurt that he is breathlessly handsome, and of course, he seems to be able to fit into any male lead no matter where he is cast. In this film, I have been thoroughly on Mike’s side from the beginning. Don’t get me wrong–Norman is fine. But Mike is stimulating, robust, stalwart, and continually butts heads with Hannah. In so doing, however, the tension between them has decidedly led to something more than simple infatuation. I am definitely “Team Mike,” and I tend to think Hannah might agree. Nothing absolutely conclusive happens in this film concerning Hannah’s love life, but if you watch the subtleties that are evident within the framework of this “love triangle,” I believe you will reach the same conclusion I did regarding Hannah’s future.
While Alison has a gentle chemistry with Gabriel, it is clear that the chemistry between her and Cameron is quite passionate by Hallmark standards. Ali has an uncanny knack for providing just the appropriate chemistry for which each scene calls. When she is with Gabriel, she is a little more inhibited since that suits his character. However, with Cameron, there is no denying precisely how they feel. Most of the chemistry is impelled by the fact that they are almost polar opposites and even in competition with each other. But there is never any repudiating the fact that the safety of Hannah is Mike’s primary concern. He would move heaven and earth for her and risk his very life to save her. And because of all this friction between them, their chemistry is incredibly fiery, effortless, and romantic in the extreme.
Of course, I cannot say enough about the mother-daughter duo shown here. Barbara and Ali are so perfectly cast, and in this film, the interactions between them are even more natural and more authentic than in the last film. In fact, the genuine love that Delores has for her daughters is more evident, and her meddlesome nature is even more toned down. Part of that could be the new lease on life Delores has (after all, she is on a dating website now and attending business school). I always knew Delores cared, and Hannah loved her mom for it, but this film just shows them as much more comfortable in their respective roles, and I even found myself identifying with both much more.
As I have said on more than one occasion, I want to be like Barbara when I grow up. It was Cedar Cove that introduced me to the wonder that is Babara Niven, but it is her bubbly personality, her sweet and humble nature, and the way she genuinely cares about others that keeps me attached to her as a person and an actor. As a person, she seeks out those who genuinely need a boost in their lives, and when she is going through a hard time, she often receives all that and more in return from her loyal followers (of which I am proud to be one). For me, her precious spirit and tender nature mean so much more to me than her acting prowess and dexterous portrayal of so many diverse roles over the years.
As an actress, I don’t believe there are words in any language to describe the marvel that is Barbara. Although I adore Ali as Hannah, and the opening scene is full is splendid moments, the instant Delores appeared on screen, I smiled massively and inwardly cheered. As Barbara deftly works her magic on the screen, I was captivated and kept saying out loud, “How can you not love Barbara?” And I genuinely mean it. Her own joi de vivre always comes out in her character, and it is evident that she is having the time of her life in this role. But even so, she makes it look so easy! I don’t know how she continues to give convincing performances no matter what part she plays, but she never ceases to astound me. In my opinion, Barbara deserves every accolade known to the acting community for her tireless service in a profession where legitimacy is downplayed and falsity is praised. Barbara never comes off as being fake whether on or off the screen. And no matter what, she always rises to the occasion and brings all the other actors on the screen right along with her. Very few actors can inspire others to a higher level, but Barbara can, and she always does it with a genuine smile and bona fide talent.
Now some actors and actresses might be a bit intimidated to play opposite a powerful woman like Barbara who just attracts attention without even trying the moment she walks on the screen. Thankfully, Allison Sweeney is just as vigorous an actress (and just as luscious), so she and Barbara are expertly suited to their roles and each other. In fact, the interactions between the two of them are more like mother and daughter than some mothers and daughter in real life.
Allison Sweeney is an actress that I just cannot help but admire. In fact, one of my favorite things about her is that she doesn’t fit the typical Hallmark mold. That may sound strange, but in some of the Hallmark films out there today, I feel like I am watching the same actress over and over again. Furthermore, I even feel like that sometimes with the leading men. but in Ali’s case, nothing could be further from the truth. She has her own unique look, and she also has her own signature way of acting. Add together the beauty, grace, and humility that she has on and off the screen, and the audience is treated to a veritable feast that is not always seen in films whether Hallmark or otherwise.
As Hannah, there is just no one else who could play the role with the veracity, tenacity, and charm that Ali brings to the role. She has infused her best qualities into this sleuthing baker, and Ali gets to participate in some diverting scenes in this film that not all Hallmark actresses get to perform. Her comedic timing is impeccable–especially in her scenes with Cameron–and as the audience is privy to the inner workings of Hannah’s mind through Ali’s expressions, no one could do it better. We never have to guess what she is thinking, and if you pay close enough attention to Ali’s character, you just might figure out who the murderer is (that’s how I figured it out). While there is never any doubt how the story will end, the journey to the conclusion is classic but entertaining. In fact, I remarked to my mother that films like these are ones I could seriously watch all day. If a film can be perfect, this one is it, and it is mainly because of Ali, Barbara, and Cameron as well as an impeccably written story line. It is rare to see exceptional Christmas cozy mysteries, but this is definitely one not to be missed.
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