REEL IN REVIEW #02—MY REVIEW OF FRANCESCA QUINN, PI.
Greetings and bienvenue, all.
In this installment of my Reel in Review series, I’ll be reviewing the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (HM&M) film Francesca Quinn, PI.
First things first, though.
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With that in mind and without further ado, as follows is my review of Francesca Quinn, PI.
Director: Anthony C. Metchie
Writers: John Christian Plummer
Actors: Mallory Jansen, Dylan Bruce, Paul Essiembre, Samantha Kendrick, and Alicia Johnston
Runtime: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Release Date: 25 September 2022 (USA)
*BE WARNED: MILD TO MEDIUM SPOILERS FOLLOW*
• SUMMARY •
Francesca “Frankie” Quinn is a private investigator in St. Benedict, Minnesota, who finds herself in the middle of her most personal case ever when her fiancé Carl is murdered. Wyn Rousseau, the lead detective assigned to the case, happens to be Frankie’s ex-boyfriend. The two were once deeply in love but broke up due to complications following the exposure and arrest of Frankie’s stepmother as a serial killer. Following their split, Frankie left her job as a forensic technician and became a private investigator. Frankie is initially content to stand back and allow Wyn to do his job by investigating Carl’s murder. But after a full week with no progress, Carl’s sister hires Frankie to solve the case instead. Agreeing to do it for free, Frankie must solve the murder while confronting her own deepest feelings regarding Carl and her complicated relationship with Wyn.
• MY REVIEW •
This is a different review from the kind that I usually do. I usually review more mainstream novels, films, and television series. Francesca Quinn, PI, is a more of a niche mystery film that first appeared on September 25th on the HM&M channel. For those of you who don’t know, HM&M is a spinoff from the Hallmark Channel that airs family-friendly feature and TV films along with some murder-and-mystery-themed limited series.
Several HM&M features have been guilty pleasures of mine for quite a while, including the Aurora Teagarden Mysteriesand especially the Mystery 101 mysteries. These movies are by no means at all prestige television. Most are silly, low-stakes send-ups of the cozy mystery genre in which sexy, cheeky, female amateur sleuths outsmart equally sexy male detectives and solve crimes that cops cannot. There also tends to be cutely mild sexual tension between the sleuth and the detective. The staunchly conservative and family-oriented nature of the films gives them a childishness and uniform predictability that’s downright laughable. If you’ve seen one of these movies, you’ve basically seen them all. But in my book, they still tend to be safe, adorable, and funny ways to while away a pleasant evening.
I was attracted to this particular movie because it was written by the same man who penned or co-penned all seven of the Mystery 101 films. Being that that cluster of movies is probably my favorite of the many HM&M series, I decided to check this one out to see how it compared.
First, the good:
o As I said, these HM&M mysteries tend to be uniform in their conservativism and general story structures. However, the network has recently begun to buck that trend with ever-so-slightly edgier storylines, more morally ambiguous protagonists, and increasingly complex takes on real-world issues and situations. I’m happy to say that this bucking—which has, ironically enough, been mostly on display in later Mystery 101 films—continues here.
The darker and colder choices of lighting, clothing, and settings; the use of Mallory Jansen’s grave voice to narrate; and the focus on an actual PI versus a perky amateur sleuth all add an element of gravity and realism to this film that’s quite rare in Hallmark mysteries. This movie’s heavy focus on the legacy of a serial killer upon the killer’s stepdaughter also added some vaguely Prodigal Son vibes to the whole affair. (Casting Teryl Rothery as Frankie’s convicted serial-killing stepmother was a genius move. Teryl always has played cruel, murderous, vindictive women like a boss.)
These things by themselves don’t necessarily make the movie good, but they do help make it more complex. And I like that HM&M is branching out with its mysteries into territory extending beyond the safe formula of perky single women who outshine hunky trained cops in uncovering obvious clues and catching murderers.
Now, the bad:
o Slight bucking of the trend or not, this is still a Hallmark movie—which means that a few unfortunate constants must hold.
The acting was rather hammy and ridiculous, and the screenplay was full of clunky dialogue that ninety-nine percent of real people wouldn’t utter in the given circumstances.
The movie’s “amateur sleuth” has unrealistic access to police evidence and investigations. There’s a bit more logic to that development in this movie than there usually is in HM&M films. (Frankie is a licensed PI, has many contacts within Minnesota law enforcement, and was formerly a law enforcement officer herself.) However, any real cop worth his salt in this film would’ve insisted that she not be allowed to play a role in Carl’s murder investigation because of how emotionally compromised she was. Any good defense lawyer for the culprit could successfully argue that any evidence or leads to which she gained access would be irretrievably tainted by her personal stake in her own fiancé’s murder case. This argument is even raised once in the film but dispensed with almost just as fast.
o This movie felt, in many ways, like a recycled script draft for the eighth Mystery 101 film. If a few details and the main characters had been changed, this movie could’ve picked up right where Mystery 101: Deadly History left off with its cliffhanger last year. And that created some very serious problems for this film.
The beginning of this movie required an overwhelming exposition dump to catch us up on the status quo. Frankie’s stepmother was revealed and arrested, Frankie and Wyn went from lovers to enemies, Frankie quit her job to become a PI, and Frankie got engaged to a man she hardly even knew all within about the first ten minutes. All of these developments were told versus shown, and it felt like a total cheat on John Christian Plummer’s part.
Because of how fast Frankie’s stepmother was introduced, outed, arrested, and convicted, it was hard to see her as a truly compelling antagonist. And since her machinations turned out to be the linchpin to this movie’s entire mystery, the movie’s climax and finale didn’t land nearly as well as they should have.
o Sally was a terribly obvious culprit almost since her introduction—from her infatuation with Wyn to the reality that every burglary victim drank her coffee before passing out. I assumed initially that her motive for starting the burglaries, killing Carl, and framing Wyn was about punishing Wyn for not noticing her. But, disappointingly, it turned out that her motive stemmed from an eleventh-hour butt-pull revelation that she was the secret daughter of Frankie’s stepmother. Moreover, it’s hard to understand Sally’s endgame logic for ambushing Frankie near the movie’s end and trying to have Frankie lure Wyn to her home.
o I wasn’t a fan of how the plot thread regarding Carl’s ex-wife’s suspicious behavior during and around the time of his murder was left dangling with no explanation.
• BRASS TACKS •
Francesca Quinn, PI, is a refreshingly unique film that still succumbs to many boring HM&M stereotypes and suffers from a limiting script whose messy beginning hampers the ending.
• MY RATING •
I give Francesca Quinn, PI, two and a half cronuts out of five.