Film Review: Chef

Move over, <i>Babette's Feast</i>, <i>Big Night</i> and <i>Eat Drink Man Woman</i>, there's a new foodie film sheriff in town and Chef Jon Favreau serves it up deliciously, with a heaping side of corn.&#160;

Celebrated, boldly experimental Los Angeles chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) has a thin skin when it comes to anyone interfering with his culinary prowess, be it his conservatively traditional boss, restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman, good and strong), or any one of the myriad foodie critics who proliferate on the Internet. So, when powerful tastemaker Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) gives him a particularly excoriating review for the bland meal he was forced by Riva to serve him, Carl goes on attack mode and his loud, messy diatribe, delivered straight to Ramsey's face in the restaurant, goes viral via Twitter. Riva fires him, and he suddenly finds he has time on his hands to spend with his neglected son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who sadly shuttles back and forth between him and gorgeous ex-wife  Inez (Sofia Vergara).

They all conjoin in Miami to see Inez's father, and there the idea is hatched for Carl to make and sell mouth-watering Cuban sandwiches from a beat-up food truck he and faithful former kitchen assistant Martin (John Leguizamo) refurbish. Carl, Percy and Martin set across the country back to L.A., creating a culinary sensation wherever they go, all of it recorded and reported on social media by the fiendishly adept, Tweet-happy Percy. In this way, Carl is not only able to forge a fuller, healthier relationship with his boy, but also regain his joy in cooking.

Although more than a tad hokey, sentimental and wish-fulfilling—Carl has not only the irresistibly bodacious Vergara, but a barely-there Scarlett Johansen, made up like Debi Mazar, as a hostess, playing the adoring women in his life—Chef is a thorough crowd-pleaser which should have that elusive fun-for-all-ages kind of road-movie appeal. The food thing, of course, is a big element, and mouth-watering entrees, be they those Cuban sandwiches, Texas barbecue, New Orleans beignets or a killer grilled cheese Carl whips up for Percy, are lovingly photographed so as to induce instant, yearning audience stomach growls. Indeed, cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau gives the entire film a sparklingly attractive look, making every locale, from a dreamily glamorous Los Angeles to vibrant, music-filled fun towns Miami and New Orleans, intensely alluring. The social-media aspects which drive the plot are cleverly rendered (although in a few years, they will be probably seem as dated as anything in War Games).

Best of all, writer-director and industry powerhouse Favreau, despite a tendency to hog the camera himself with maybe a surfeit of well-upholstered "humanity," has filled the cast with appealing name actors who enter into it with full party spirit. Leguizamo's brief, wickedly side-splitting imitation of Vergara's distinctive accent—the most fecund source of Latina comedy since Carmen Miranda's—is the film's funniest moment. Bobby Cannavale is Carl's restaurant sous chef, who does not pack up his knives and leave with him. An ultra-sleek Robert Downey, Jr. pops up as another ex of Inez's, an Angeleno slickster who gifts Carl with that life-changing food truck, and an over-tanned and bedizened Amy Sedaris plays a noxious publicist with every ounce of her patented, wacky energy. Anthony is a bit overly precocious at first, but you eventually warm to him, and Platt is thoroughly in his element—the best, freshest work he's done in years—as the pompous Ramsey. 

A rollicking music score, which comprises ethnic niceties ranging from Miami salsa to Nawlins zydeco, tasty R&B classics and Texas twang, contributes big-time to the overall festive flavor.

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