Attempting to make a virtue of its non-budget, “I’m Not Cooking Tonight” stumbles along, fitfully clever, often painfully awkward. The slim nature of this first-person fictionalization improves somewhat by dint of its tongue-in-cheek self-consciousness. But in the absence of raw energy or a truly vibrant story, the picture is no more than a sketch for a potentially better-conceived project. It could attract modest specialized interest but most likely will serve as a calling card for the filmmakers’ future efforts.
From the first frame, Japanese-born writer/director Takaya Yamazaki attempts to co-opt the audience and enlist it as an accomplice in the making of his movie. He admits that his plight — and the one of his American producer wife — is how to make a film in the absence of money. So, the guerrilla approach they will take is to beg, borrow and steal film, rely on friends for services and tell a simple story dear to their hearts — the incident that was the turning point in their relationship.
Getting there turns out to be half (or less) the fun of the amusingly presented premise. Takaya introduces the actors who will be playing characters based on himself (Katsuo Nagasawa) and his wife (Julia Gibson). Later, all four sit around and discuss how the story is developing. But rather than providing wry commentary, the quartet fidget and squirm as they attempt to introduce or clarify key plot points.
The seminal moment alluded to at the outset is a bizarre evening in which a presumed burglar (Aaron Mendelson), brandishing a revolver, holds the couple hostage in their New York apartment. Rather than money, he’s actually looking for a place to camp out and a way to reunite with his estranged wife.
Sadly, the filmmaker lacks the skill to make this unexpected twist poignant or revelatory to a degree that would overcome pic’s technical and artistic weaknesses.
“I’m Not Cooking Tonight” is pretty much a parboiled effort. Perhaps next time the Yamazakis will have the fixings with a more substantive meal.