The Chocolate Cult: How Much Do Chocolate Chip Cookies Figure in Murder?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

How Much Do Chocolate Chip Cookies Figure in Murder?

September 15, which was the birthday of world famous mystery author Agatha Christie, is Cozy Mystery Day so in honor of that, I am going to review a 2015 Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel movie Murder She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery. This was one of a series of cozy mystery movies based on a series of novels by Joanne Fluke, whose work I have reviewed on this blog in the 2016 so you can check out that review here if you like. Hallmark has made six movies based on Fluke's now 25 book series with. The cozy mystery movie combines two popular genres in one -- detective with romance without being too sexual or too gory. If you are a horror fan who also likes things to be a bit more adult or mature, that might me you aren't particularly interested, but I tried to keep an open mind when I watched. Hey, I like some "kids", rom coms, and sitcoms out there so perhaps I'd like this.

Before I get to my review, let's give credit to some of the cast and crew. The main character, Hannah Swensen, is played by actor Alison Sweeney who has been in the NBC daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives for over three decades as well as several other Hallmark mini-series and movies. The other main character is Mike Kingston, a local Detective with the police played by actor Cameron Mathison who is familiar to Hallmark movie watchers but has also appeared in several other series on other networks over the years. The movie was directed by Mark Jean who has done many other TV mystery movies; this is the only one of the Murder She Baked series that he did for Hallmark. Let's see how they all did with this the movie that started the franchise on Hallmark.

First impression is that I love the opening that quickly takes us inside a kitchen. Yes, please! The kitchen is apparently Hannah's home not her bakery, The Cookie Jar. We see when Hannah goes for a jog that folks in the town know her and when her first customer come in, we learn that everyone love to talk to her and tell her things. That's important in a cozy mystery because the main character needs to solve the problem that is threatening the community by relying on what she can observe and learn, not on the skills and resources that the police may have. While everyone in town loves Hannah, even delinquent baseball players, the people who should love her most, her mother and her sister, nitpick and neg on her dress and hair. That really annoyed me a lot because family dynamics do not need to be that way and portraying them that way risks normalizing them and I don't think in a genre that could be empowering for women that is a healthy contradiction to show. That later on her mother gives her a pep talk that results in a baking montage does not undo 99% of the other interactions between them. Using the blackmailing techniques of their mother against her sister to get her help, is hardly positive sisterly bonding either.

In Hannah's life, things happen in a timely fashion. Her employees must show up on time, treats must be removed from the oven on time, and deliveries must be made when promised. So when her milk delivery man doesn't show up on time, Hannah goes to check and finds him dead, a bag of her bakery goods  and a partly eaten cookie by his side. Hannah can't let this crime go even though her brother-in-law, a police officer asks her to keep calm so they don't panic the town, she goes to look into things at the dairy where he worked. That is where she meets homicide detective Mike Kingston. This is the first unbelievable part of this movie for me. Kingston works for the police department but he has not heard of Hannah and she had not heard of him? Really? It is explained by him saying he is new to town. If that is so, why would this murder be his first case? Why not assign it to someone who is familiar with the town and who would know who to talk to? My guess is that because a stranger allows the romantic trope of "they hate each other at first sight" to happen. YUCK.

Another problem I have is Hannah's motivation for continuing to looking into the murder. As I watched I wanted to see earlier signs that she didn't let things go, that she was interested in mysteries, or that she loved puzzles, or even that other people were asking her to look into it. But that never happened at all. There were clear signs that Hannah can see through people's BS when they are attempting to impress her or other falsely, but she isn't perfect with that skill, who would be? Since I don't understand why Hannah is drawn toward solving a murder or any mystery, I struggle to believe her as as even the heroine of a current cozy mystery and she currently is no Miss Marple though she might slightly resemble Tuppence Cowley (both of those are women Christie characters).

Of course, it is up to Hannah to suddenly apologize to Detective Mike after a dangerous situation. she does so with baked goods, duh. He opens up about what he's found because as the movie has shown us, eventually everyone opens up to Hannah. This goes too smoothly because that is part of the romance of the modern cozy mystery, not the mystery aspect as Christie was writing. This is the part of the current genre that I don't like. I also don't like the nearly constant flow of comedic elements in the flow of one-liners and slightly silly situations that won't get into for fear of spoiling any plot elements.

Finally, I wanted more chocolate chip cookies! This is The Chocolate Cult! I was promised a mystery that included chocolate chip cookies in the very title of this movie. But where were they? The special that first day that the movie was set was for chocolate chip crunchies or something like that and perhaps Ron, the first murder victim, had a bag of them, but honestly the cookies weren't much of a factor. Next time, Hallmark, I want cookies to play a central role if you are going to put them in the title.

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