Review: 'Chef' is sweet and familiar

Posted at 07/06/14 11:13 AM

Carl Casper is a passionate chef at a fancy restaurant, but a failure as a family man. An unceremonious altercation with an online food critic was a cruel twist in Carl's fate. Fortunately, he gets an opportunity which could reestablish his career, as well get his family back together again. Will Carl be able to make the most out of his second chance at success? 

Writer-director Jon Favreau also stars in the lead role, and he was able to portray the gruff Carl with a big heart and that makes us root for him. The jokes were not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but were at least delightful. This humor is basically because of Favreau's great chemistry with John Leguizamo, who plays Martin, Carl's assistant chef. Leguizamo brings an infectious energy to his role, making it more memorable than it was on paper. Young Emjay Anthony plays Carl's sensitive son Percy with unusual maturity for a boy his age.

A look at the poster will show that there are many big name stars in this film. However, they were in much smaller roles, probably just lending their star power to bolster this film's chances at the box office. Sofia Vergara plays Inez, Carl's estranged wife. Robert Downey Jr. plays Marvin, a rich eccentric Miami businessman, who used to be married to Inez. Dustin Hoffman plays the owner of the restaurant for whom Carl cooked for the past 10 years. Scarlett Johansson plays Molly, the bistro hostess whom Carl fancies. Oliver Platt plays the vicious food critic Ramsey Michel whom Carl hates.

I must say though that all those lovingly shot close-ups of food preparation were so beautiful. They were the best scenes in this film. Seeing those tender barbecued slabs of meat and those tasty Cubano sandwiches made my mouth water. Foodies will love this film.

Music, particularly energetic Cuban beats, was also a prominent feature of this film, though those long concert scenes could have been shortened. The road trip from Miami to New Orleans to Austin en route to LA looked like a lot of fun. The influence of Twitter is also well-demonstrated here, almost too well. It felt like watching an advertisement for that social networking site.

We get the sense that Favreau wanted to send a message to the critics of his previous films, probably the Iron Man franchise. He was apparently saying that he was not in complete artistic control in those films and the harsh words of the critics hurt him. This film was his special way of starting over by getting back to his indie film roots.

If not for its generous sprinkling of bad language, "Chef" could honestly have been a Disney Original Movie for TV. This was supposed to be light and fluffy family fare, but I thought that it was tad overdone in terms of its two-hour running time. But as a whole, the meal Favreau prepared for us in "Chef" was sweet and familiar, with just a hint of spice. It was warm-hearted and made with positive intentions, so it will be a pleasant viewing experience for most audiences. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."