Pots and Panned?
Starring: Jean Reno, Michaël Youn
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Ah, flippant movies about virtuous chefs and serpentine critics. Exorbitant portions are subdued in favor of strategic plating and multi-tiered flavor profiles. And how about those plates that flourish with primary colors? Daniel Cohen, the director behind Le Chef, sets his movie in the eccentric battlegrounds of affluent kitchens. Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno) represents the elder statesmen of fine dining. Relying on broths, venerable lamb dishes, and brick and mortar steak, Lagarde is floundering in a modern world where culinary tightrope walking is uniformly lauded. The ire of critics, complete with razor sharp pitchforks and roaring torches, intend to send a wrecking ball to our chef’s three-star restaurant. To prevent himself from suffering professional humiliation, the affable but stubborn Lagarde must molt his dust covered recipes in order to come up with a new, unique menu.
Le Chef trounces on its characters with the kind of wacky sight gags and loopy dialogue that would be in a Three’s Company episode, complete with a Get Smart-like scenario where Reno dresses up like a Japanese man in order to infiltrate his nemesis’ restaurant (seriously, the hull of this movie is under that much pressure). Helping the struggling chef is his mousy, impulsive protegee named Jacky (Michaël Youn). The aspiring and pragmatically-challenged cook has an evolved sense of smell that only Patrick Suskund’s literary creation, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, would understand. Because of his heightened abilities in the kitchen, the wonky manchild helps Lagarde re-imagine his sedentary menu. In a bombastic way, Jacky is the movie’s Drop Dead Fred.
Cohen’s opus is really set on its course by the use of a milquetoast villain, here in the form of a megalomaniac restaurateur and shareholder named Stanislas Matter (Julien Boisselier). He’s the sort of acerbic villain without a discernible motive, particularly for the amount of unabridged venom he has for Alexandre Legarde. Matter is suitably icy and dapper, fork-tongued and relentless, but completely interchangeable with any other movie baddie. Le Chef’s screenplay calls for our antagonist to do everything short of appear out of a puff of smoke with a crew of henchmen.
Cohen posits that science is replacing sincerity, and he draws much of his point from lampooning molecular cooking (ducks are condensed into aromatic cubes of liquid nitrogen and broth, only to taste like “fish”). Le Chef is a fun and nondescript evening at the movies, even if Cohen’s direction is without fingerprints – you would expect a movie about cuisine to pop with colors, but instead it looks like sheet metal. Still, Reno is great without his usual cloak of gun powder and blood.