The underlying problem with “Chef,” written, directed by and starring Jon Favreau is that he is the big enchilada and he has very little zing. The plot is so derivative that it seems pre-eaten and the film must rely on the personalities of the performers rather than smart dialogue or character development; in this category Favreau is missing both seasoning and charisma. To make matters worse, he has cast Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johannsen as the two women in his life; you’d need someone with the screen presence of a Ryan Gosling or a young Jeff Bridges to play opposite these smoldering females - not a tattooed schlub who’s not too interesting outside the kitchen. We’re living in weird times when unattractive men like Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Seth Rogen are big box office stars playing schlemiels who become the love interest of extremely beautiful women. In real life, such women might very well be interested in these actors but only because they are so successful - not for their looks or sad sack qualities.
As substitute for missing or uninteresting dialogue, Favreau offers a Latin soundtrack that’s upbeat and rhythmic and would be fine on a 1/2 hour segment on the food channel or as background music for vacuuming. As the young son looking for a relationship with an absent father, Emjay Anthony is sincere but unbelievable to anyone who’s been around a 10 year old nowadays. Not since the early Mickey Rooney movies have I seen a kid who was eager to clean up a greasy food truck (clubhouse for Mickey) or one who would rather be a short order cook for long hours as opposed to playing video games or hanging out with his friends. As for John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale, they have stock parts of ethnic fillers and get to use many curse words casually. Oliver Platt and Dustin Hoffman deserve mention for their hair only.
Reviewers have mentioned the subtext of this movie as Favreau’s showing what he can do with a small indie film instead of huge mega hits like Iron Man for which he wasn’t chosen as director in its latest iteration. I’d prefer to think that he’s a big guy who clearly enjoys eating and thought it would be fun to build around his relish for great grilled cheese, Cuban pork and Texas barbecue sandwiches. The food is festive - the movie more like re-heated leftovers.
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