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Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: Burnt

Send It Back to the Kitchen

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: October 30, 2015 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: John Wells
Writers: Steven Knight (screenplay), 
Michael Kalesniko (story)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, 
Daniel Brühl, Riccardo Scamarcio, 
Omar Sy, Sam Keeley, Matthew Rhys, 
Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman 

All too often, "Burnt" feels like a sequel to a movie that never happened. When the backstory is more interesting than the events we actually see in the film, that's a problem.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a celebrity among chefs – he's considered the "Rolling Stones" of the culinary world – but he disappeared from the Paris restaurant scene three years earlier for all the usual reasons: bad behavior, drugs and alcohol, being an asshole. One of his drunken/assholish acts was to set rats in a competitor's restaurant and then call the health inspector. His self-imposed penance: peeling oysters in a New Orleans dive while detoxing from meth, booze, and women. His comeback takes him to London, where every single person he ever wronged in Paris now magically resides. Quite the trip! Hopefully they got a group discount.

Tony (Daniel Brühl) owns a restaurant. More accurately, his father owns it. Adam needs a job. They can help each other.

Adam's pitch: if he's hired as the head chef, he'll turn the restaurant around – and Tony can finally make his father proud. Tony agrees, but only if the temperamental chef undergoes weekly drug testing from a doctor (Emma Thompson, making the most of a small role).

Adam knows he'll need cooks. He recruits single mum Helene (Sienna Miller) and former rival Michel (Omar Sy). Along the way, he'll have to contend with a rival restauranteur (Matthew Rhys) and a finicky food critic (Uma Thurman, putting on a delicious English accent in a small cameo).

Adam Jones is a chef in the grand tradition of Gordon Ramsay – he violently clangs pots and smashes plates across the room. It's his passion for perfection, you see. And yet, ironically, he's not above eating at Burger King. He explains why, in one of "Burnt's" more memorable scenes, and outlines his philosophy in the kitchen.

The quest of every great chef is to earn three Michelin stars. How a tire company became the foremost authority on food is beyond me, but its ratings are legitimately the culinary equivalent of winning an Oscar or Pulitzer. Michelin's methodology is always the same – at least according to this movie: an "anonymous" critic will come in, carefully place a fork on the floor, order only half a glass of water, and other such nonsense along those lines. Wow, what normal, unnoticeable behavior – they sure know how to blend in!

Before years of hard living, Adam used to "look like an angel." Was this part originally written for Mickey Rourke? That's the only way that piece of dialogue makes any sense. It isn't nearly as believable when talking about Bradley Cooper. Then again, his character does have a bit of facial hair, which in Hollywood means you're living on the edge!

Despite that, one character still has lingering feelings for him. I won't say who, but "Burnt" might have been more interesting if it had gone in that direction. At least it would have been an unexpected development in a film with very few of them.

Foodies beware: there is nothing appetizing or glamorous on display here. This is a dark and gritty look at life inside a kitchen. What's on the plate definitely takes a backseat. There is nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but even the omelets look boring. No peppers? No onions? No seasoning? I guess we're supposed to believe the chef has such magical hands that he can make even plain, dull eggs taste like a slice of nirvana. Okay, maybe. (Silver Screen Sister did notice that the yolks were more orange in color. Is that how eggs look in England or did someone in the editing room have a little too much fun with the color timing?)

I suppose that's appropriate, because the movie has the consistency of runny eggs. The performances are rock solid and the characters are interesting, which makes it all the more a pity that the story is far richer off-screen than on. While there are certainly positive aspects to appreciate here, keep in mind that cold pizza still tastes good too.

Perhaps "Burnt's" biggest sin: I wasn't even hungry as I walked out of the theater.

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