Review: ‘The Chef’

Poking fun at the restaurant world, French helmer Daniel Cohen's genial, broadly played comedy dishes up easily digestible laughs.

Poking fun at the restaurant world, French helmer Daniel Cohen’s genial, broadly played comedy “The Chef” dishes up easily digestible laughs as an annoying, know-it-all foodie lucks into his dream job at a fine dining establishment. Suited to the less demanding end of the audience spectrum, middlebrow pic could serve as a menu item offshore, or the recipe for a remake. Gaumont has already sold distribution rights to Germany, Canada and Japan.

A self-trained cook with haute-cuisine ambitions, Jacky (thesp, singer, comedian and media personality Michael Youn) gets canned from a series of menial cooking jobs for taking exception to his customers’ taste. Beatrice (Raphaelle Agogue), Jacky’s heavily pregnant girlfriend, tries to halt their financial meltdown by arranging a handyman position for him at an old folks home, but he can’t resist the siren call of the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), chef and nominal proprietor of the three-star Cargo Lagarde, faces a crisis of a different sort. Stanislaw (Julien Boisselier), the interfering son of his retired business partner, wants him to cut costs and update the menu. Since he can fire Alexandre if the restaurant loses a star, Stanislaw tries to undermine him in every way possible, transferring his favorite sous-chefs and threatening his food suppliers.

The current fashion for molecular gastronomy sparks some of the film’s most inspired bits of comic business. The import of a Spanish expert (a tip of the skillet to El Bulli’s Ferran Adria) results in a test kitchen full of frothing beakers and liquid nitrogen clouds. Sillier yet, Alexandre and Jacky disguise themselves as Japanese dignitaries to sample the food at a trendy, state-of-the-art establishment that uses iPads as menus.

Although the action involving food prep and meal consumption goes down best, the screenplay by Cohen and Olivier Dazat also stirs in a surfeit of undercooked subplots. Even so, short running time notwithstanding, the pic comes off as repetitive, mostly because Jacky is such an irritating, one-note character.

Cheerful widescreen lensing makes the most of its occasional outdoor scenes, framing Alexandre and Jacky against the Eiffel Tower for the shooting of their live cooking show, or showing a posse of white-clad chefs moving in slo-mo showdown style toward the corner grocery store. Production design excels at contrasting eatery ambience.

Thesping is geared toward a cartoon tenor that works well within the pic’s parameters. Also setting the right tone is the jaunty score by Nicola Piovani and cute, restaurant-themed opening credits.

The Chef

France-Spain

Production

A Gaumont production in co-production with TF1 Films, A Contracorriente Films, U Film in association with Canal Plus and Cine Plus. (International sales: Gaumont, Paris.) Produced by Sidonie Dumas. Co-producers, Jeremy Burdek, Nadia Khamlichi, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn. Directed by Daniel Cohen. Screenplay, Cohen, Olivier Dazat.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Robert Fraisse; editor, Geraldine Retif; music, Nicola Piovani; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; costume designer, Emmanuelle Youchnovski; sound (Dolby SRD), Lucien Balibar. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Culinary Cinema, opener), Feb. 9, 2012. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue, Julien Boisselier, Salome Stevenin, Serge Lariviere, Issa Doumbia, Bun Hay Hean.

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