Chef ***

chef

This is the kind of film that should come with a warning: not just “eat beforehand” but “writer-director vanity project alert”. If you’ve never fancied Jon Favreau films, this one isn’t setting out to change your mind either. Chef is easily consumable though, and Favreau does have another competitor to contend with in each scene – the food.

It’s the same-old ‘road journey’ metaphor at play, learning from one’s mistakes when it comes to those that matter around us, while not losing that individuality and spirit that makes the character (hopefully) appealing. Writer-director Favreau also stars as notorious celebrity chef Carl Casper who loses his job at Riva’s (Dustin Hoffman) restaurant following the consequences of a bad review by food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt).

Struggling to see his estranged kid, Percy (Emjay Anthony), at the best of times, Carl is at a loss as to what to do, even though he knows he’s got some great signature dishes to share and bundles of talent. A meeting with his ex-wife’s (Sofia Vergara) ex beau, businessman Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) starts a catalyst of life/career-changing events with former sous-chef and good friend Martin (John Leguizamo) and his son in tow as they take the US by storm in a food truck.

The film’s plot is mapped out from the start –- it’s just a matter of watching the car crash of events leading to the moment of revelation. There is nothing new in this respect. However, the journey taken is by all means still an entertaining one, and Favreau’s big personality certainly suits that of his character. But just when things get a little predictable, out comes the food prep/cooking to keep you truly distracted, so it’s hard to tell whether the feel-good factor is a genuine investment in the film, or you’re being wooed by the culinary delights and balmy heat of the kitchen/food truck. It’s basically food porn with morals stirred in, and it’s as though Favreau has made a film about his passions with no apologies, folks.

There are some nice performances from the ensemble cast, with Leguizamo playing to type – that of the dependable pal, while Platt oozes amused malevolence as the critic. It seems Vergara and Downey Jr. (and Scarlett Johansson btw who plays a sexy maître d’) are just around to look ‘good’ while Hoffman brings an A-list name to his A-list restaurant. All offer solid but forgettable turns in this. Again, the ‘kid’ in the film gets even greater screen exposure than past gigs: meet Emjay Anthony as the ever understandable son, doing what kids do which is control the world via social media like some super villain deciding our fate. Those not in the know about the power of social media will learn a thing or two here, so there’s some interesting marketing ideas to be had.

All in all, it’s hard to knock a film that offers up a little bit of life-lesson-learning, emotional drama, and loads of mouth-watering food – unless the thought of sitting through over two hours of Favreau turns your stomach. On the whole, Chef is a funny, poignant crowd-pleaser that won’t leave a bad taste in the mouth and will fill you up nicely.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Love and Other Drugs – 2*

Let’s be frank: This is a film for dedicated Jake Gyllenhaal and/or Anne Hathaway fans because both are paraded in their full glory and look hot to trot (just see the poster) – even the latter, which is tad unsettling, considering she plays a Parkinson’s Disease sufferer on stage 1 of the illness. Now, that’s not to say that looking good isn’t an option, and fighting the disease means tackling everyday existence head-on. But Love and Other Drugs seems confused as to how it wants to be taken, apart from the obvious polished-looking rom-com with two good-looking leads in Gyllenhaal and Hathaway. It simply misses the mark on sentimentality and seriousness of subject matter, coming across as a frivolous fling.

The film does take a long time to get going, too. There is a lot of toned and birthday-suited Gyllenhaal and Hathaway to get through – fans will undoubtedly be pleased to hear – as we witness their first odd meeting and subsequent entanglement. Gyllenhaal looks doe-eyed in Hathaway’s presence – set to melt hearts. Hathaway fires off her standard defensive, sarcastic retorts, before showing her vulnerable side that gets a little tedious after a while. It’s acting by numbers and barely offers anything fresh from either talent. And even when they finally decide they’re ‘sort of’ an item, the plot still feels a little hazy as to its intended direction, leaving a rather deflating feeling in the end. This could well be Zwick‘s erratic direction, though.

Love and Other Drugs starts out as a confident and slick dig at corporate life in the pharmaceutical game with some humorous and cheeky moments, thanks to Gyllenhaal’s steady performance as young salesman buck Jamie with the world at his feet. Enter Hathaway as gorgeous patient Maggie with encyclopaedia knowledge of every Parkinson’s symptom and drug on the market. This is where things start to get a little incredulous. In fact it would have been more believable if Jamie had tried pressing some of his drug wares on Maggie, but he falls hook, line and sinker for her – and the more abrasive she is, the more he chases. It helps that she wants unattached sex, but boy, is there a lot of carnal knowledge to get through before anything really interesting begins.

It does feel like watching two different films. The concept of corrupt medical staff seems like an intriguing one on its own, under the lure of free drugs and Viagra-plugging. This is the really interesting part of the whole story. Apart from Maggie looking tired and getting a few shakes, sporadically, the Parkinson’s gets a brief sentimental look-in near the end when the couple go on the road to find a ‘cure’ and end up at an unofficial convention for the disease. It’s obvious the film-makers want to highlight that any age can be affected but life goes on. However, the easy blend of comedy and heart-felt moments just doesn’t quite mix.

With Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs should be a rom-com match made in heaven, a sexy affair, considering both are fine actors in their own right. But although watchable at times because of the casting, the high that these two should inject fizzles out, once you’ve overindulged in their lust fest and tried in vain to work out what the purpose of it all is – and ‘love conquers all’ just isn’t enough in this case.

2/5 stars

By L G-K