As a devoted chronicler of the life and times of Lea Thompson - I'm really not - I mark the two-thousand-aughts as the decade of the Jane Doe mysteries on the Hallmark Channel. Between 2005 and 2008, Lea Thompson starred in nine of these suckers, two of which she even directed. This one - Jane Doe: Now You See It, Now You Don't - is the second entry in the series. It first aired on February 18, 2005. But it's the first Jane Doe mystery I saw, and it was good enough that I didn't mind watching eight more.
Maybe some plot spoilers.
Lea Thompson is Cathy Davis, a happily married suburban wife and mom in Los Angeles. With her husband Jack (William R. Moses), she whiles away her days raising their two kids, 12-year-old son Nick (Zack Shada) and 16-year-old daughter Susan (Jessy Schram). That is, when she's not working her 9-to-5 at a game company. To look at Cathy Davis, you'd think she's your typical soccer mom. But when the Declaration of Independence is stolen, guess who the government recruits to help find it?
Cathy hides a colorful past. She's a natural born puzzle solver. And it's this knack that made her a star at the Central Security Agency. But then she quit her government gig to become domesticated in the 'burbs.
Let's put aside the hooey notion that the government would ever allow the Declaration of Independence out of the National Archives Building in Washington. The plot posits that this document has embarked on a tour, its first stop being the United Metropolitan Bank in L.A. And when it vanishes under the watchful eyes of the security guard and the CTTV - I mean, the guard looked away for a moment and when he looked back, poof! Gone! - it's dang lucky an ace puzzle solver inhabits the city.
Cathy - who is code-named "Jane Doe" - is called in by CSA Agent Frank Darnell (Joe Penny), the investigation's case officer. Frank used to be her old partner; they were once "really good friends." Cathy's presence promptly gets on the nerves of CSA Agent Helen Morriston (Tamlyn Tomita), Frank's current partner with whom he's also "really good friends." Understandably, Helen feels Cathy is poaching in her territory. And that's about as dirty laundry as this movie gets. Helen's antagonism creates decent friction in the plot. I just wish she were less of a dense flatfoot. She's like a character from those B-movie private eye flicks from the 1940s where bumbling cops always got underfoot.
Absolutely, there's a Scarecrow & Mrs. King vibe. The tone is similar and lighthearted enough. A recurring theme to this series is Cathy's keeping her family in the dark about her exploits in skullduggery. Thus, we get scenes in which Cathy is called to action and has to come up with ways to distract her family so that she could sneak away. Then it's off to the meat locker of a local supermarket to have her clandestine meets with Frank.
It's amusing to me how, even though she keeps her fam in the dark, she still relies heavily on her kid as her go-to tech support. I guess, next to a twelve-year-old's computer prowess, the CSA's E.P.I.C. database is so much crap.
I wish Cathy had faced more puzzles to solve. I liked how she figured out how the Declaration of Independence was purloined... within fifteen minutes of her at the scene of the crime. Disappointingly, for the most part, the movie does away with the puzzle-solving element. And, so, what we get is the reluctant Agent Jane Doe chasing down leads in conventional Hallmark mystery fashion à la Jennifer Shannon (Garage Sale Mysteries) or Hannah Swensen (Murder, She Baked), just to name two of Hallmark's now crowded stable of female amateur sleuths.
Also a bummer is that her two leading men, Penny and Moses, aren't given much to do. Penny's character, in fact, aggravated me in spots. I mean, he practically begs Cathy to help out on the case, but then goes on to constantly reprimand her when she does her thing. Meanwhile, Moses has even less to do as the oblivious spouse.
I will say that Cathy does go it solo maybe too often and often doesn't tell the CSA where she's going. It tends to land her in scrapes. It gives her envious rival, Agent Morriston, reason to lash out at her. Except going off on her own seems to be how Cathy achieves progress on her cases.
Now You See It, Now You Don't kept me watching to the end, and it made me curious about Cathy's further adventures. I haven't seen the first movie - Jane Doe: Vanishing Act - since, for whatever reason, it's rare, if ever, that Hallmark re-airs the original movie. It's the same for Kellie Martin's Mystery Woman movies, a series that Hallmark re-airs with regularity, except for the original movie.
Lea Thompson won't ever be best known for her Jane Doe movies. Me, I know her best from Red Dawn, Some Kind of Wonderful, the Back to the Future movies, and, yes, for Howard the Duck. But in the mid-aughts, she was able to keep her acting career going, courtesy of Jane Doe. See Cathy moonlight as an intrepid secret agent and put baddies away while not ever carrying a gun (she relies on her charm and wits). But observe her, too, as she goes about the more important business of being a loving mom and wife. Even if she has to spill a crap ton of milk and cakes along the way just so she could slip away and indulge her undercover hobby.
One other thing that bugged me... and, again, spoilers. Is a watch battery really potent enough to power a plasma screen for days and days?
The Jane Doe movies:
- Jane Doe: Vanishing Act – first aired 1/21/05
- Jane Doe: Now You See It, Now You Don't – first aired 2/18/05
- Jane Doe: Til Death Do Us Part – first aired 3/11/05
- Jane Doe: The Wrong Face – first aired 6/19/05
- Jane Doe: Yes, I Remember It Well – first aired 1/14/06
- Jane Doe: The Harder They Fall – directed by Lea Thompson, first aired 3/4/06
- Jane Doe: Ties That Bind – first aired 3/17/07
- Jane Doe: How To Fire Your Boss – first aired 5/8/07
- Jane Doe: Eye of the Beholder – directed by Lea Thompson, first aired 1/12/08