FILM REVIEW: CHEF

Because of the foodie focus of the film here, there has to be a way to do a review of Jon Favreau’s Chef comprised entirely of food expressions. The film is a scribble of modest, amiable ideas floating around with no real focus or purpose, so why not play around in the kitchen?

“CHEF HALF-BAKED.”

“ALMOST TOP CHEF.”

“CHEF UNDERCOOKED.”

“FAVREAU FALLS FOR FOOD IN FATTY, FLIMSY FARSE.”

Okay, this is quickly boiling over, and losing zest.  That last one wasn’t even really all that good. Let’s be serious, and whip up a review.

Favreau’s Chef is the tale of a Los Angeles cook, Carl Casper, played by Favreau, looking to put some flavor back into his life. Favreau’s the cool-as-a-cucumber, big enchilada cook looking to break out of a creative rut when his cooking has begun to fall flat as a pancake with everyone around him. Casper’s at odds with his boss (Dustin Hoffman) over the predictability of their work, already dangerously biting the hand that feeds him. He eats like a horse, flew the coop in his marriage, and is failing as a single father to his intrepid 10-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

One night, a critic as sour as a raspberry (Oliver Platt, interestingly the brother of real-life food critic Adam Platt) comes down hard on Casper’s cooking, forcing a nervous and very public breakdown. Casper goes bananas. In one sitting, his life goes to shreds as he becomes a viral sensation – the crazy chef that got pissed off at a food critic. Casper bites off more than he can chew, and winds up losing his job. In a nutshell, the recipe is familiar enough – Casper looks to reinvent himself and get his life back on track with a food truck scheme that gets him back to his roots while sharing touching scenes between he and his estranged son.

Favreau, realizing that variety is the spice of life, likely made Chef as a low-key response to critical and commercial stagnation in light of the recent films he’s made. Cowboys & Aliens and the first two Iron Man films, square meals though they were, likely felt low-cal for the director. Chef is a pick-me-up for Favreau, but yet it’s ultimately un-filling.

The movie butters up its audience with scintillating food preparation montages and loving photography for ingredients, and it’s the film’s bread and butter, but the story is too loose and never truly brings home the bacon. Favreau learns a lot about himself, his son, his ex-wife, his friends, all in a sloppy, convenient, and ultimately cheesy story. It’s silly, but this is a movie where a guy’s career is saved by selling Cuban sandwiches like hotcakes off a food truck, with no problems building an audience, getting permits or parking spots, or competing with other trucks.

And maybe that’s because this story’s a hard nut to crack. The film is over-seasoned as a redemption tale, food erotica, and a jab at critics – a dangerous recipe for a director in Favreau’s position, not unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s later work.

If this movie were a food, it’d very much be the Cuban sandwiches that Carl Casper doles out on that truck – quick, appetizing, and enjoyable enough, but not all that substantial.

Originally posted May 20, 2014, on Consequence of Sound.

 

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