(Originally posted on May 27, 2014 on Movieweb.com)
Well if Jon Favreau's Chef had the goal of enmeshing viewers in the sights, sounds and imagery of great cuisine that will have audiences leaving theaters hungry outstanding food than Chef is a complete success, but as a film the romantic dramedy falters as Chef leaves me full, but not fully satisfied with what I just ate.
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is stuck in a rout living a mediocre life. Casper is a head chef at an upscale restaurant in Los Angeles, has good friends he works with in Martin (John Leguizamo), Molly (Scarlett Johansson), and Tony (Bobby Cannavale), but life is not as good as Carl makes it out to be. Casper is divorced from the beautiful Inez (Sofía Vergara) with whom he has a son with in Percy (EmJay Anthony) who Carl neglects, and lets down constantly, but Casper's personal life isn't the only part of his life that suffers as his work as a Chef suffers as well as the now famous chef is stuck in a rout not able to cook the food he wants or take a chance with his dish choices, and that all changes when a famous blogger and restaurant critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) comes to Casper's restaurant, and culminates after Ramsey gives Casper a bad review that leads to a major incident that goes viral to millions of people costing Carl Casper his job and lively hood leading the once great chef on a journey to his roots and discovery as he bonds with Percy, and reconnects with Inez.
Chef at times does a wonderful job using technology to display how quickly something and go viral destroying someone's career and life as well as showing how it can be used in just in nearly the same about of time can make someone famous, and like Carl I really don't understand twitter, one second videos or the likes of them or have used them so I felt for Carl. At times the use of twitter and other media outlets is charming and fun, but Chef overuses them turning something that was charming into something that was somewhat irritating. What drew me to Chef the first romantic dramedy I have seen in theaters since Silver Linings Playbook was the good cast that included Leguizamo, Vergara, Favreau, Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr. Sadly much of the great cast was wasted on bit parts that didn't add any humor or anything to the film. The biggest standout was Downey Jr. who played Inez's other ex-husband Marvin who had one poorly written scene that seems have been only included to move the plot forward. The bombshell Johansson to was wasted. Though she did have more of a role, Scarlett's Molly seems to only to have been included to tell the audience in the early parts of the film what a masterful Chef Carl Casper was.
What saved Chef from mediocrity or being a bad film was Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, and EmJay Anthony as Carl, Martin, and Percy. The three actors had great chemistry working together, and the relationship between Carl and Percy is what saved the film. Carl and Percy grow together throughout the film and on their journey on the food truck traveling from Miami to Los Angeles. Through the love of food and cooking Carl and Percy reach a new point in their relationship. John Leguizamo was his usual charming and funny self-bringing as Carl's best friend, and what aids these three actors is some wonderful and infectious soundtrack.
Chef suffers from having around a hours' worth of plot in a nearly two hour film with a slow build up, overuse of social media as a plot device, and wasted actors that is only saved by the charm and chemistry of Favreau, Leguizamo, and Anthony along with some excellent food, and a beautifully put together soundtrack. Ultimately my recommendation would be to skip Chef in the theater, and wait for it to be released on DVD or at Redbox.