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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chef Review: Funny But Undercooked in Parts

The cooking comedy Chef has its moments, but it's under-dressed for the occasion.

A movie like the Jon Favreau comedy Chef begs for a litany of puns, so let's get them out the way. This undercooked but still flavorful comedy is missing key ingredients, resulting in something that's not quite a full meal.

Carl Casper (Favreau) was an aspiring chef, a Superman Chef if you will, impressing critics and stomachs alike with his unique dishes. Unfortunately that was 10 years ago, and Casper is now heavier and a little more corporate, preparing the same dishes night after night. When local food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) arrives for a tasting, Casper wants to make an entirely new menu, but the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) wants nothing of the sort: he orders Casper to prepare his 'hits.' The result is a scathing review that insults Casper, leading him to quit after losing a Twitter war with Michel. Casper's ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) feels bad for the big guy and sets up a meeting with her first husband and wealthy wacko Marvin (Robert Downey Jr), who gives Carl an old food truck. Together with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and kitchen lieutenant Martin (John Leguizamo), the trio trek across the country, selling Carl's unique menu to lines of adoring fans while he and his son re-connect.

It's not that Chef is bad, but it feels like whole parts of this movie are missing, and yet its 115 minute runtime would suggest Favreau had all the time he needed. The problem here is that too many of the scenes are stretched out beyond their use, while at the same time important storylines are forgotten or mismanaged along the way. While it's great to see Scarlett Johansson here as the restaurant host, her relationship with Carl utterly disappears after he's fired, with no fanfare or explanation. Downey's appearance is hilarious but should have been an unannounced cameo, but it's the interaction between Carl and Inez that's missing. There's never a moment for the duo to pontificate why their marriage fell apart, nor is there enough buildup between them to fall in love again, as Carl and Martin are on the road for most of the film.

Favreau also wrote Chef, and we love his work dating back to Swingers. His Bronx style is infectious, and the chemistry between him and Leguizamo fuels most of this film. Their banter is as great as the food they create, while Favreau gives plenty of moments for Carl to develop his relationship with Percy, who is actually quite good. Favreau really gets human interaction, sometimes allowing dialogue to develop instead of penning each moment. But look at his directorial debut Made, and you'll see the same problems - too much conversating and little true character development. As much as we hate the corporate model of trimming to streamline a film, Chef could have benefited from such a treatment.

Luckily, Chef doesn't stay bad for long - you'll definitely want to eat before seeing it, and anyone on a diet is gonna feel tempted. But its comedic moments and spicy soundtrack outweigh a decidedly undernourished feeling as you drive home.

Chef is rated a surprising R for language, including some suggestive references and has a runtime of 115 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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