Fans of SWINGERS, good news… That film’s writer and star is back in indie form after directing and igniting the IRON MAN franchise, and then crash landing with the big budget misfire, COWBOYS AND ALIENS…
In CHEF, Jon Favreau plays Carl Casper, a name that sounds like a superhero but his powers are in the kitchen… of someone else’s restaurant. That’s the first of three dilemmas: His boss doesn’t want any original menu items, making Carl’s work a dull template, eventually beleaguered by a top food critic who, going viral on Twitter, shares an awful review that turns into an online feud, eventually making our put-upon hero look ridiculous. And on top of quitting his job, Carl’s a weekend dad for a moody son who wants more and more time.
The funniest scenes occur as Favreau displays his usual neurotic charm, trying desperately to climb out of a seemingly endless hole. But halfway through, as the main plot ushers in… of a once great restaurant chef running his own food truck… it’s all sunshine viewed through rose-colored glasses, deleting the edgy banter that made MADE and SWINGERS so engaging.
One problem is how easily Carl comes to own the truck in the first place, conceived and handed down by his ex-wife and backed by her rich ex-husband, played by IRON MAN himself, Robert Downey Jr., in a caustic cameo surprisingly awkward and unfunny (Jon’s ex partner Vince Vaughn would have worked better). But this scene’s purpose is how Carl floats into what should be a risky venture, which, through his son’s twitter account, becomes such an instant smash there’s little left for the characters, or the audience, to worry about.
If the intention was to make a feel-good road movie about a father and son bonding, Favreau's hit a home run. Or if exploiting delicious looking food is a factor – this could very well be the CITIZEN KANE of taste buds. But for anyone who prefers a dash of perpetual stress as an essential comedy ingredient, CHEF, while somewhat satisfying, is a meal that leaves much to be desired.
Score: **1/2 out of *****
By James M. Tate