USA 2014

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Jon Favreau

Runtime: 114 minutes

Chef is a culinary feelgood movie that lacks bite

Jon Favreau’s Chef is a mildly enjoyable feelgood movie that doesn’t entirely make sense. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a respected chef at a restaurant run by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). When he learns that the restaurant is going to be visited by prominent food critic/blogger Ramsey Michel (the name presumably a blend of Gordon Ramsey and Michel Roux), Casper decides it is time to give their menu a bit of an overhaul. However, this is frustrated by Riva who insists that they should stick with what they know works. Unfortunately, the supposedly reliable offering receives a lacerating online review that is then retweeted by hundreds of people.

Casper responds by getting into a Twitter flame war with Michel (played by Oliver Platt), followed by another dispute with his boss which leads to him losing his job. Following a trip to Miami with his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) Casper is inspired to set up a mobile food van selling cubanos (a kind of Cuban sandwich). His son Percy (Emjay Anthony) gets involved, enabling them to bond, as does Martin (John Leguizamo), a friend from the old restaurant.

It’s all good-natured fun, but lacks any real drama. Once they get the van on the road the story stays on an upward trajectory until the end. It is a staple of feelgood movies that the characters should experience some major setback on the road to goal achievement (think of the police raiding the rehearsal and taking Robert Carlyle’s son away in The Full Monty). I was therefore waiting to see whether Casper would fall foul of child labour laws or if his van would be declared unroadworthy, but in fact there was no such issue to give the story some bite.

It also did not quite make sense that Casper should have blown a fuse with Ramsey Michel in the first place, when he knew full well that the real problem was his boss’s conservatism. But possibly Chef‘s worst sin is the complete wasting of two star actors. For the brief time that she is onscreen, Scarlett Johansson (playing the restaurant hostess) does little more than tell Casper how talented he is. Robert Downey Jr. plays a former husband/boyfriend of Casper’s ex-wife, who is in a position to give Casper some help at the point when he needs it. There is the potential for some tension to be thrown into the mix here, but unfortunately such tension that there is gets resolved in nanoseconds.

Chef seems to have done quite well at the box office, which I can only assume is the result of good timing – perhaps in the middle of a hot summer people want something undemanding that will maintain their positive mood. But really this seems to be the cinematic equivalent of the “playing it safe” approach that led to Carl Casper’s stinking review.

Rating: 6/10

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