By Rich Cline
Like comfort food, this movie has very little nutritional value, but it sure goes down smoothly. This is one of those shamelessly delicious-looking films that makes our mouths water at the tasty dishes that are lovingly created on-camera. And it also has an array of deeply likeable characters, witty cameos and sparkling dialogue to keep us smiling. So who cares that nothing unexpected happens from start to finish? This is a movie we sit back and enjoy without worrying about the appearance of a plot twist.
The title character is Carl (played by writer-director Jon Favreau), the chef at a top Los Angeles restaurant that is stuck in a rut because the owner (Dustin Hoffman) refuses to change anything on the menu. When a snooty food critic (Oliver Platt) criticises Carl for his tired and predictable cuisine, Carl's reaction sparks an angry Twitter war. In a fit of anger, Carl quits his job then hatches a plan to get back to his roots while bonding with Percy (Emjay Anthony), his pre-teen son with spicy ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara). So Carl and his sidekick Martin (John Leguizamo) take Percy to Miami to refurbish food truck and drive back to California, along the way building a reputation and perfecting their Latin-infused menu.
Since a complex plot would just be distracting, this film coasts on the charisma of its likeable cast, throwing in lively side roles for the likes of Scarlett Johansson as a restaurant colleague, Bobby Cannavale as a fellow chef and most memorably Robert Downey Jr. as Inez's hilariously nutty ex. Everyone is relaxed and effortlessly funny, which makes the interaction feel amusing and never remotely forced. While this is easily Favreau's most assured work as a director (that's including the first two Iron Man movies), this is also his most generous performance too. He infuses the whole film with easy-going charm.
Audience members who haven't eaten before seeing this film will be ravenous within minutes. The flavours on screen look mouth-wateringly tasty, and Favreau is clearly enjoying himself as he takes us on a cross-country trip from Cuban specialties in Florida to deep-fried wonders in Louisiana, Texas barbecues and Mexican-fusion dishes in California. This is a film about the joys of cooking rather than of eating, specifically how preparing food brings people together in the kitchen. So even if Carl's Luddite ignorance of social media feels utterly contrived, it makes sense that this provides an opening for Percy to get involved in the family business. And once we see what they're whipping up in the kitchen, we might even believe that Carl could attract women like Vergara and Johansson.
Watch 'Chef' Trailer
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 30th May 2014
Distributed by: Open Road Films
Production compaines: Kilburn Media, Aldamisa Entertainment, Fetisov Teterin Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 19
Cast & Crew
Producer: Jon Favreau, Karen Gilchrist, Sergei Bespalov
Starring: Jon Favreau as Carl Casper, John Leguizamo as Martin, Bobby Cannavale as Tony, Emjay Anthony as Percy, Scarlett Johansson as Molly, Dustin Hoffman as Riva, Sofía Vergara as Inez, Oliver Platt as Ramsey Michel, Amy Sedaris as Jen, Robert Downey Jr. as Marvin, Russell Peters as Miami Cop, Chase Grimm as Vendor, Will Schutze as Mr. Bonetangles, Gloria Sandoval as Flora, Jose C. Hernandez as Abuelito