Chef’s Special

A rare example of a Spanish comedy in which the laughs outweigh the groans, this high-entertainment item about a gay chef struggling to get his life together sees former tube helmer Nacho Garcia Velilla tossing familiar ingredients into the pan and coming up with a throwback to the unabashedly vulgar, populist comedies of the '70s, elegantly remade for the present day.

With:
With: Javier Camara, Lola Duenas, Fernando Tejero, Chus Lampreave, Benjamiín Vicuna, Junio Valverde, Luis Varela.

A rare example of a Spanish comedy in which the laughs outweigh the groans, this high-entertainment item about a gay chef struggling to get his life together sees former tube helmer Nacho Garcia Velilla tossing familiar ingredients into the pan and coming up with a throwback to the unabashedly vulgar, populist comedies of the ’70s, elegantly remade for the present day. Crowd-pleasing perfs from thesps playing precisely to their strengths, and a lively, knowing script combine to provide Spanish auds with a la carte laughter. B.O. since the pic’s mid-April release has been strong, but this is home-grown fare unlikely to travel.

High-strung and anally retentive Maxi (Camara) runs a designer restaurant and dreams of obtaining his first Michelin star. Imperiously strutting round his kitchen, he is aided by foul-mouthed Ramiro (Fernando Tejero, too regular a face in contempo Spanish comedies) and unlucky-in-love Alex (Lola Duenas). First scene has Maxi going crazy when Ramiro tells him there’s a Michelin reviewer in the restaurant, only to learn it’s a salesman from the tire company.

Maxi was married to Marta (Cristina Marcos), who dies early on, leaving him to bring up their two kids, one of whom — difficult teen Edu (Junio Valverde) — is unable to accept he has a gay dad. Maxi’s new neighbor is fanciable Horacio (Benjamin Vicuna), a former Argentine soccer player: Maxi sets up a date between Horacio and Alex, but then it emerges that Horacio, too , is gay. The farce is served.

Camara, Spain’s finest comedy thesp at present, camps it up deliciously, injecting witty new life into the stereotype via a range of deliciously precise mannerisms, yet is able to switch in a second to a darker register. His perf won him best actor at the recent Malaga fest.

Though there is nothing new about the situations the script sets up, the pleasure is in seeing how thoroughly it mines the comedy in them. It is helped in this by good perfs from the thesps surrounding Camara, particularly from Duenas. Even when the characters are screaming at one another, which is a lot of the time, what comes out of their mouths is witty (though sometimes untranslatable). Tejero is a limited thesp who tends to repeat roles from one pic to another, but the script brings out his best as well.

Visually slick-looking, “Chef’s Special” is full of bright, clean-edged pastels. Pic features a lovely little cameo from Almodovar vet Chus Lampreave.

Chef's Special

Spain

Production: A Warner Brothers Pictures Intl. Spain release of a Canguro Producciones, Antena 3 Films, El Canguro production with the participation of Antena 3. (International sales: Imagina, Madrid). Producers, Daniel Ecija, Tedy Villalba, Nacho Garcia Velilla. Directed by Nacho Garcia Velilla. Screenplay, Garcia Velilla, David S. Olivas, Oriol Capel, Antonio Sanchez.

Crew: Camera (color), David Omedes; editor, Angel Hernandez Zoido; music, Juanjo Javierre; art director, Javier Fernandez; sound (Dolby Digital), Sergio Burmann. Reviewed at Cines Acteon, Madrid, April 18, 2008. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: With: Javier Camara, Lola Duenas, Fernando Tejero, Chus Lampreave, Benjamiín Vicuna, Junio Valverde, Luis Varela.

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