Chef Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated R. Opens Friday.
In Jon Favreau’s Chef, a once-promising creative voice has given up his unique vision in favor of crafting predictable work for a wealthy boss, but he finally gets tired of doing what he’s told and sets out to return to his roots. A number of critics have posited the movie as an allegory for Favreau’s own career as a filmmaker, but if that’s the case, then it’s the story of a guy who’s just traded one kind of safe mediocrity for another.
In Chef, Carl Casper (Favreau) goes from cooking middlebrow fare at a French restaurant to chasing the food truck trend, and the movie finds Favreau going from directing soulless Hollywood blockbusters (Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens) to putting together a limp, feel-good “indie” dramedy stocked with big-name actors doing him a favor.
Some of those actors are appealing to watch (Robert Downey Jr. has a great one-scene cameo as Carl’s ex-wife’s first husband), but most of them are wasted in small parts, while Favreau overestimates his own appeal as the chef who learns clichéd lessons over the course of the movie (don’t neglect your family, believe in yourself, etc.).
The shapeless story takes way too long to get to Carl’s big moment of change, and the tension in both his professional and personal lives feels forced. For foodies, there are plenty of loving shots of delicious meals being prepared, but literally dozens of reality shows offer the same images on TV every week. Chef has all the depth of one of those shows, and only about half the cooking.