PLOT: A self-destructive chef (Bradley Cooper) tries to redeem himself and rebuild his career by relocating to London. There he attempts to earn a prestigious third Michelin star and keep his formerly drug-fueled demons at bay.
REVIEW: Sometimes a movie just seems compromised. Originally a highly-touted prestige project (back when it was called ADAM JONES – after the main character) Steven Knight's screenplay earned raves and many predicted major award buzz for Cooper – who's certainly been on a hot streak lately – once he signed on to star. But, buzz has a funny way of dying-down, and with Jon Favreau's well-received CHEF having previously covered similar ground, BURNT, as the film is now known, feels like a curious non-event compared to how it was once perceived.
Having finally seen the film, I think it's safe to say comparisons to CHEF are the least of its problems. The movie is actually highly uneven, with tons of clumsy exposition, some very strange opening narration (which seems like a hastily added addition) and a clunky vibe which suggests John Wells' movie underwent some major re-tooling before making it to the big screen.
As it is, BURNT isn't a terrible movie, but it is a very mediocre one. Bradley Cooper's bad-boy chef is a wholly unoriginal, and often quite boring figure. We first see him pulling oysters out of shells in a lowly New Orleans kitchen, with us learning that he's inflicting penance on himself for past misdeeds by pulling out a full million oysters (a feat which we learn has taken him about two years) before allowing himself to re-ignite his career. Throughout the film, people talk about how Cooper's character was a drug-addicted terror and a notorious kitchen bad-boy. Maybe that's the movie we should have seen, with the now-sober Jones emerging as alternately as a kitchen tyrant and a nice guy trying to get his life back-on-track.
When Cooper is allowed to play Jones as an asshole, BURNT comes close to working. There's some real bite to his performance when he's throwing tantrums in the kitchen, but every time Jones seems to be on the cusp of being a bad guy, we get a tacked-on scene where he romances Sienna Miller's single-mom sous-chef, or bakes a cake for her precocious daughter. He's far more interesting as a bad boy, but even this is problematic, as everyone goes on-and-on about how brilliant Jones is, but very little evidence of his talents are on display. In CHEF, Favreau really seemed like he could cook, and the movie was food porn par excellence. Here, Cooper seems to do an awful lot of screaming, but very little in the way of actually innovating haute-cuisine.
Being a star vehicle, the movie ultimately rests completely on Cooper's shoulders, and while he's certainly a good actor, I'm not sure he has the absolute, megawatt star charisma the role needed. With Jones being touted as such a dynamic legend, adored by both men (including Daniel Bruhl's hopelessly infatuated maitre'd) and women (including Alicia Vikander in a small role as Cooper's ex), Jones should never come off as anything less than exceptional, but Cooper doesn't quite have the stuff (yet) to make Jones that kind of guy.
Again though, the real culprit here may be – appropriately – too many cooks in the kitchen (or rather - editing room) with BURNT being such a schizophrenic, ultimately safe movie. So much of it is predictable, and there's never any sense of danger, even when Jones is being stalked by the henchmen of a drug dealer he once stiffed. While there are plenty of marquee names on-board, including Emma Thompson, INTOUCHABLES Omar Sy, and Uma Thurman, the only real venom comes from The Americans' Matthew Rhys as the self-described Salieri to Cooper's Mozart. But even he winds up simply being a convenient plot device that enables Jones to come-off as a kind of likable underdog.
While BURNT is never a really bad movie, it's still a very frustrating, tepid one. There very well may be a much better version of BURNT lying around in a vault somewhere, but this feels like a watered-down version of something that should have been much cooler. It's an OK movie and never a chore to sit through, but considering the pedigree, it should have been a whole lot better.
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