Directed by Jon Favreau
In “Chef,” Jon Favreau (directing, writing, and starring, his first triple-threat since 2001’s “Made”) gets back to the basics of filmmaking…but he misses his mark. Sometimes I feel like, as a young(ish) moviegoer, I’ve been jaded by the special effects and fantastical plotlines of today’s cinema. But I know a good, simple, realistic movie when I see one, and I think “Chef” had the potential. It just didn’t reach it.
When semi-celebrity L.A. chef Carl Casper (Favreau) leaves his restaurant after a dispute with his boss (Dustin Hoffman), he gets in a funk. That is, until his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) finally convinces him to try the food truck business. So, Carl buys an old fixer-upper and takes his every-other-weekend son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and favorite sous-chef, Martin (John Leguizamo), across the American South, serving up dishes to hungry fans and making deep connections they never thought they would make.
Even though I came straight from a delicious food truck lunch (a ham and mozzarella sandwich greasy and savory enough to make anyone a foodie), the dishes cooked and served in “Chef” looked delectable enough to make me hungry all over again. Food porn of the most exotic kind. But “Chef” focuses too much on the dishes. It turns into a Food Network special and stops being a fictional narrative. The story falters. The characters aren’t hashed out. (But Casper makes hashed browns that made me want to leave the theater and run to the nearest gourmet breakfast restaurant. Yum.) But back to what I was saying – “Chef” just doesn’t cut it. The story relies on character chemistry, and it simply isn’t there until the three men hop on the food truck – and that’s an hour into the movie. Robert Downey Jr. has a killer cameo, but you only have five minutes to enjoy that. Sofia Vergara is better than her material. She never fails to, at the very least, appear likable. But Jon Favreau is a stud. Casper is the only character that Favreau (as screenwriter) decides to tell us a little about. His is the only one worth getting invested in. And Favreau goes beyond cheap comedy flick to make Casper a real underdog. It still doesn’t make up for a subpar story and careless script.
It’s a fun ride, but I keep thinking of what “Chef” could have been.