The Hundred-Foot Journey Manish Dayal, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Le Bon, Om Puri. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Rated PG. Opens Friday.
Based on a novel touted by Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, and produced by the powerhouse team of Steven Spielberg and Winfrey herself, The Hundred-Foot Journey is carefully crafted middlebrow entertainment for daytime TV-watchers. Director Lasse Hallström, whose credits include unassuming prestige fare like Chocolat and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (as well as two Nicholas Sparks movies), works his greeting-card magic on the story of an Indian family opening a restaurant in a small French town. Just across the street from their establishment is a fancy French restaurant run by the snooty Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who has little tolerance for anything other than classical French cuisine.
The tame culture-clash comedy rarely ventures into any challenging territory (the very real racial tensions that exist in France show up only briefly, as a catalyst for further harmony among the characters), and it doesn’t take long before Madame Mallory is recruiting culinary prodigy Hassan (Manish Dayal), the son of the Indian restaurant’s owner (Indian acting legend Om Puri). Add in a romance between Hassan and one of Madame Mallory’s apprentices (Charlotte Le Bon), and the movie has the perfect recipe for inoffensive crowd-pleasing.
The scenery in the French countryside is gorgeous (as are the young stars), but the storytelling is sluggish, especially in a drawn-out third act that sees Hassan become a celebrity chef in Paris. Its characters may cook up dishes that are vibrant and daring, but The Hundred-Foot Journey is strictly bland comfort food.