In theaters Friday, Oct. 30
2 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
Bradley Cooper is the kind of performer who oozes roguish charisma. He showed it off as far as back as 2005, when he played a bad-boy top chef based on Anthony Bourdain in a short-lived Fox comedy titled Kitchen Confidential.
A decade and three Oscar nominations later, he’s got the knives out again for a new foodie-themed project. And without him in the starring role, this sour-tasting film would be toast.
(Food metaphors are fun!!! More to come!!!)
He’s Adam Jones, the former enfant terrible of the culinary world. A self-destructive junkie with a short temper, he got blasted out of his former job at a Paris eatery and did penance by shucking a million oysters at a New Orleans dive bar. We learn via voice-over that he’s clean and sober now and ready for his career’s second act — but it’s obvious he’s retained his edge. You know, because he has a five-o’clock shadow and wears a leather jacket.
Adam moves to London, where, conveniently, all his former cohorts now reside. You’d think these talents would take one good look at this good-looking jerk and run back to Paris. Yet after he takes over an upscale eatery, almost all of them return to work for him. He also ropes in a few newcomers, including his sous chef — a sharp-tongued single mom named Helene (Sienna Miller). Keep an eye on Omar Sy’s Michel, by the way. He owns the best and most unexpected scene in the film.
Adam’s goal: to glean a better perspective on life outside the restaurant bubble and become a more decent human being. Just kidding. He wants to earn himself the oh-so-coveted third Michelin star. (It sounds familiar because this was also a plot point in 2014’s lovelier The 100-Foot Journey.) He doesn’t care how he treats his staff to get it. And apparently, the feeling is mutual. Though Adam makes Gordon Ramsay seem like Big Bird, one in-awe newbie raves that he’s like a Rolling Stone in the chef realm.
In many respects, this is a delectable part for Cooper. Speaking impressive fluent French at times, he gets to break rules, break plates, and break hearts. (Only one is in the literal sense). For all his general boorishness, there is admittedly something sexy about his rock-star swagger in the kitchen. That’s really Cooper doing the slicing and dicing, and his colorful plates are true works of art. (Mario Batali served as a consultant.)
Aside from those mouthwatering entrées, though, not much else is cooking here. Overstuffed with characters and subplots, the frenetically paced drama bites off way more than it can chew. It’s not enough for Adam to chase after that third star; he must also reacquaint himself with a food critic/former fling (Uma Thurman in a role almost completely left on the kitchen floor) and have wistful talks with the daughter of his mentor and yet another former fling (Alicia Vikander). Emma Thompson also shows up as a counselor who administers his drug tests and longs for him to open up to her. Mercifully, he did not or does not romantically pursue her as well.
But he does romance Helene — and, disappointingly, she reciprocates. This is a guy who shoves her and insults her in the kitchen on opening night. There are witnesses. He has a history of drug problems and an ego bigger than the size of London itself. He won’t even let her take an afternoon off to plan her daughter’s birthday, for crying out loud. She makes out with him anyway. Miller played Cooper’s wife last year in American Sniper, a movie in which she conveyed significantly more backbone and tough love. Needless to say, a diva chef is no Navy Seal hero.
The inherent problem in Michelin-minded movies is that the average moviegoer doesn’t give a fork about the high stakes, high cuisine drama. It comes off annoyingly pretentious and self-important. That’s why it’s crucial to feature characters worth caring for. Alas, when the chef in charge is a narcissistic hothead. . . well, it’s time to get out of the kitchen.
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