“Dear Prudence,” the latest in a line from the Hallmark Channel Mystery Movie franchise, is more innocuous than mysterious, sort of like a baby boomer version of “Murder, She Wrote” or “Diagnosis Murder.” It’s mild entertainment in the storied tradition of the Saturday night TV movie that works because it leans on the charisma of its star.
Jane Seymour is the eponymous Prudence, a second-generation pop-culture celebrity who, like her mother before her, doles out household hints and other beneficial bon mots in advice columns and on TV. An amalgam of Heloise, the various Dear Abbys and Martha Stewart, Pru has put work ahead of life and consequently doesn’t have much of one outside the TV studio. When she finds she’s doing yet another segment on controlling cat litter odor and carpet stains, her boss realizes she’s suffering fromburnout and sends her on a vacation to Wyoming.
It turns out that the lodge at which she’s staying was also a favorite retreat for her late mother, and once there, Pru discovers a box of her old love letters as well as a new friend in caretaker Ruth Lawson (Tantoo Cardinal).
Ruth introduces Pru around the small town and is soon charming the locals with her various “Pru pointers,” such as how to fix annoying squeaks with just a shpritz of olive oil. It’s not long before Prudence attracts the amorous attentions of local bigwig lawyer Doug Craig (Rob Stewart).
In the grand tradition of mystery movies, trouble soon arrives. Ruth’s son, who was investigating shady dealings involving Native American tribal land, is found dead of an alleged suicide, but Pru suspects foul play. She informs the local sheriff, Eddie Duncan (Jamey Sheridan), of her suspicions, but he’s not buying into her brand of do-it-yourself sleuthing. In fact, when she offers to tutor him on how to clean the police station coffeemaker, he rebuffs her with “We like bitter. It keeps us mean.”
Undeterred, Pru enlists her gadget guru and production assistant, Nigel (Ryan Cartwright), who also happens to be a brilliant scientist, to join her in Wyoming to solve the crime. Hilarity ensues.
Seymour’s Pru is the perfect combination of finicky and fun, a type-A personality who can solve every problem but her own. Seymour hits it just right, even if the movie waffles between serious and silly, once again proving she’s got a great sense of humor (see “The Wedding Crashers” for further evidence).
Sheridan is aptly bristling as the ornery sheriff who slowly warms to Pru’s unique charms, and the two make an appealing pair. Although the mystery here is solved, it sets up a nice scenario for Sheridan and Seymour to reunite in further installments.