Film review: Chef | Jersey Boys | Cold in July

Jon Favreau plays the chef of the title, with Emjay Anthony as his son Percy. Picture: Merrick Morton
Jon Favreau plays the chef of the title, with Emjay Anthony as his son Percy. Picture: Merrick Morton
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FROM Babette’s Feast to Big Night, there have always been movies that make audiences regret skipping dinner for an early evening screening. And in a similar vein, you should probably stay away from Jon Favreau’s new film if you are on a diet or are lactose intolerant. Chef is all about droolsome cuisine – but it also contains more than your recommended daily allowance of sugar and cheese.

Chef (15)

Director: John Favreau

Running time: 114 minutes

Star rating: ***

Favreau plays gastronomic perfectionist Carl Casper, who runs the kind of posh Los Angeles restaurant where the food is decorated with caviar or arranged in towers. Carl was hot a few years ago, but seems to have lost his mojo by the time he’s revisited by the famous food blogger (Oliver Platt) who first discovered him. After sampling his latest menu, it’s Carl who ends up spatchcocked for serving complacent and unimaginative food.

Chef is the third film written and directed by Favreau, who made his name on small movies like Swingers and Made, then tackled tentpole productions like Iron Man, before pulling in some very negative reviews for Cowboys And Aliens.

So could Chef really be a film about the business of being an artist? You bet your bottom dillweed. And in case we miss the subtext, Chef’s restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) upbraids him for getting too artsy in his creations, recommending that he sticks with the stuff he’s best known for: the “greatest hits”. When he refuses to comply, he’s fired.

Rendered unemployable by his bad press, Carl is offered a shot at redemption and a chance to bulk up his food miles by taking to the open road in a food van donated by his ex-wife’s first husband (Robert Downey Jr). After a good scrub and a lick of paint, he’s all set to take his precocious perma-tweeting son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and a line cook (John Leguizamo) across the country from Miami to LA.

En route, they set up a menu based around Cuban sandwiches, a foodstuff that is basically a Latin-inflected ham and cheese toastie, and Carl teaches his son how to wield a kitchen knife, tells him why you should never serve a burnt sandwich, and gives him a curious tip about using cornflour on your genitals to keep your meat and potatoes dry and fresh on a hot day. Isn’t baby powder cheaper?

Favreau may feel that simpler, less artificial fare enhances our cultural life, but as he drifts across America ooh-ing over fried doughnuts and barbecued meat, it’s clear Chef is selling comfort food to its audience rather than anything really nourishing, and during one especially interminable break to appreciate a blues band, there’s time to ponder the film’s many undercooked contrivances and conceits. Would a Miami cop really recognise a celebrity chef from a distant state, let alone demand a selfie with him?

You might buy that Carl was once married to Sofia Vergara, but really, is it likely that Scarlett Johansson would be warming her hotplate for Carl too, especially since neither woman looks like they eat a lot of fried dough? And their presence, along with the brief Downey Jr cameo, makes it difficult not to reflect that Favreau is tossing expensive ingredients into a rather bland pudding.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Friday

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (PG)

Star rating: ***

Four years after the original parable about American-accented youngsters taming dragons as a cross between dogs and B17 bombers, a sequel to this hugely popular picture was inevitable – but, alas, despite some spectacular flights aboard Toothless the dragon, the story doesn’t soar this time.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is now a twentysomething, struggling with the idea of one day taking on the role of Viking chieftain, and resisting the push towards adulthood by engaging in a lacklustre subplot about invading dragon-rustlers, led by ruthless Drago (Djimon Hounsou), and a trudge towards a noisy fire-breathing showdown.

Cate Blanchett pops up as Hiccup’s absentee mother, adding confusion to the vocal geography and biological logic of having Scottish elder Vikings (Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson) and dudely voiced North American offspring (Baruchel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig among others) by sporting an accent which seems to come from Highlandderry or County Lanark. Almost as remarkable is her one-woman dragon sanctuary filled with butterflies and waterfalls and very little in the way of blasted woodland and charcoal.

Disappointingly shorn of emotional resonance this time, How To Train Your Dragon 2 still offers reasonable family entertainment, although many of its pleasures are oddly peripheral, such as a glimpse of two dragons joyously cavorting behind Hiccup, with a large stick as their bone of contention.

On general release from Friday

The Golden Dream (12A)

Star rating: ****

Impressive debut from Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez about four teenage Guatemalan immigrants trying to make it to the US atop a cargo train, facing thieves, corrupt officials and other perils along the way.

Selected release from Friday: Dundee Contemporary Arts and Glasgow Film Theatre

Jersey Boys (15)

Star rating: ***

Clint Eastwood directs this strait-laced retelling of the rise of Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young, below) and the Four Seasons, from childhood petty crime and mobster pals to walking like men while singing in falsetto. Features hits such as Oh, What A Night and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, the worst ageing makeup this side of James Dean in Giant, the confident assertion that all women are ballbusters, and Christopher Walken as an off-the-peg genial Goodfella. Walken doesn’t get to bust many moves here unfortunately, and Eastwood’s economic directing style is starting to look plain tightfisted.

General release

Cold In July (15)

Star rating: ***

After he kills a burglar in self-defence, a mild mannered, small town shop owner (Michael C Hall) is drawn into a dark Texas mystery. Don Johnson’s mordant charm helps carry a cool, cruel Southern pulp tale.

General release from Friday

Walking On Sunshine (12A)

Star rating: **

This holiday romance musical starring Hannah Arterton, Katy Brand and Leona Lewis is prime hen night viewing – it’s a Primark Mamma Mia!, with 80s songs and Greg Wise as a caddish older man trying to woo back one of the pals. So gloopy it’s more like walking on quicksand.

General release from Friday

Return To Homs (15)

Star rating: ***

Few human interactions are less civil than a civil war, as illustrated by Talal Derki’s documentary on Syria’s struggle, made while embedded in Homs with charismatic football star-turned-resistance fighter Abdul Basset al-Saroot. Fractured and harrowing.

General release from Friday