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Cheap Date Saturday: 'Operation Cupcake' Versus 'Piranhaconda'

Dean Cain, left, in <em>Operation Cupcake</em>. The Piranhaconda, right, in <em>Piranhaconda</em>.
Dean Cain, left, in Operation Cupcake. The Piranhaconda, right, in Piranhaconda.

Summertime, and the television is cheap as all get out. It's a time of reality shows and burned-off episodes and barely-publicized imports.

And it's a time of TV movies.

Tonight, two such films are squaring off to be your Cheap Date entertainment for the evening: Operation Cupcake on the Hallmark Channel, and Piranhaconda on SyFy. (There is actually also Blue Lagoon: The Awakening on Lifetime, but we can't really complicate things too much, or it will get ... complicated, and the last thing Cheap Date Saturday wants to be is complicated.) So how can you possibly decide which of these Cheap Dates might be right for you? Fortunately, I am here to help. (Contains spoilers. Seriously. Although if you are watching either of these movies for their unpredictable plotting, please proceed directly to the emergency room. Tell them I sent you.)


Piranhaconda: You must admit that they are not hiding the ball here at all. It is a movie about a cross between a piranha and an anaconda, and one of the characters even says so at one point: "It's like an unholy alliance between a piranha and an anaconda!"

Operation Cupcake: Also pretty clear. It is indeed a film that is at least sort of about a military man undertaking a project in the area of cupcakery. Although of course, because it's on Hallmark, it's really about love.

Driven fellas

P: Michael Madsen as a scientist desperate to track down the snake-fish monster that killed his father, and not to be slowed down by the fact that he runs into a crew making a B movie called Head Chopper 3.

OC: Dean Cain as a recently returned military man desperate to settle back in with his family even though he's afraid his rotten kids have forgotten him and his wife, a burgeoning cupcake magnate, is doing just fine on her own.

Heroic conflict

P: Man versus snake-fish monster. Also snake-fish monster versus screaming women in bikinis.

OC: Man versus gender roles suggesting he is not a real man if he doesn't have a purpose, but that he is also not a real man if he wears an apron and helps out at his wife's cupcake bakery.

Ruminations on importance of giving life meaning

P: Actress who feels she has accomplished nothing of value offers to sacrifice herself to get the detonators. (You didn't know there would be detonators?)

OC: Man wears hairnet; gets friend to help rebuild wife's cupcake bakery to show his commitment to their marriage.

Secondary villains

P: Additional piranhaconda.

OC: Wife's smarmy business partner "Thad."

Unlikely moments

P: Woman with leg partially bitten off by snake-fish monster crawls through woods; man who's been shot in shoulder forgets he's been shot after a little while.

OC: Military man tasked with frosting cupcakes with "icing gun" is startled and turns around, shooting frosting all over cupcake store's surprised/mortified patrons.


P: Young woman uses seduction and kneeing to get away from evil kind of offensively stereotyped kidnapper who says "Dios mio!" twice in about five minutes.

OC: Son of semi-estranged parents hits home run in big baseball game; leaps over catcher to score winning run.

Does anyone renew their wedding vows?

P: No.

OC: That would be a spoiler.

Theme song

P: Yes. Surf-music inspired song about the piranhaconda including the line, "Is it a fish, or is it a snake?"

OC: No. Just a lot of generic semi-military-sounding music over the credits. There is no song called "Operation Cupcake" with a line like, "How much more of this can his wife take? Is he a warrior? Or does he just want to bake?"

Poor taste

P: Unnecessary zoom on actress' behind that makes it appear we're going in for some sort of medical procedure.

OC: Colonel Dean Cain decides to make "Shock & Awe" cupcakes for his wife's somewhat military-themed establishment, "Four-Star Bakery." Everyone finds this fine.

Hilarious Titanic references

P: Hero and heroine are named Jack and Rose.

OC: None.

Important lesson about family

P: Snake-monsters are very protective of their eggs. Just leave their eggs alone, okay?

OC: Nothing is more important than hugging.

Things that complicate life

P: Being held for ransom.

OC: When your teenage daughter starts wearing low-cut tops and having a boyfriend.

Number of people eaten by mutants and turned into clouds of bloody fog

P: By my count, roughly twenty.

OC: Less than four, that's all I'm going to say.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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