Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie with Abe: Chef

Directed by Jon Favreau
Released May 30, 2014 / DVD September 30, 2014

There’s something about food movies that make them undeniably appealing. It’s easy to salivate over food preparation of any kind, whether the ingredients or complete dishes themselves are actually enticing. A movie with a title like “Chef” is sure to indulge in the delight of good cooking and good eating, and what’s left is ensuring the presence of a solid story. This film may have an enjoyable plot, but despite an enviable cast, there’s something about the acting and dialogue that just doesn’t make it a home run.

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a popular chef at a major restaurant hastily prepping for a visit from an important food critic. Caught up in the busy nature of his work, Carl has trouble bonding with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), much to the chagrin of the ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) who enthusiastically supports his career. When his boss (Dustin Hoffman) refuses to allow him to prepare an adventurous menu, mandating instead that he stick to the basics, Carl gets panned, and he does not take the review in stride, setting off a chain reaction that forces him to think about what is actually going to make the eternal chef happy.

Favreau is an actor with plenty of experience behind the camera, helming the first two “Iron Man” films as well as the odd trio of “Made,” “Elf,” and “Cowboys and Aliens.” Here, he picks a harmless comedy, one that promises a happy ending and plenty of fun on the way there. While Favreau sometimes gets cast in the right roles, like Daniel Bateman in “The Replacements” or Pete, the Ultimate Fighting Champion, on “Friends,” this is not the right part for him. He doesn’t imbue Carl with the right gusto or enthusiasm for cooking, and as a result Carl’s lines feel insincere.

That problem extends to the rest of the cast as well. Talents like Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, and Oliver Platt are used to minimal effect in bland supporting roles that offer them few opportunities to chew scenery. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale are ready to show their energy as members of Carl’s kitchen staff but their roles are written rather thinly. Robert Downey, Jr. ends up being the only cast member to truly fulfill his potential, but his character feels wholly out of place. Just as unsatisfactorily, this film already knows where it wants to go and isn’t interested in presenting conflict or the idea that maybe things won’t work out on its journey. It may be appetizing to watch, but this film could have been much, much better.


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