dir John Wells
scr Steven Knight
prd Stacey Sher, Erwin Stoff
with Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys, Omar Sy, Riccardo Scamarcio, Sam Keeley, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lexi Benbow-Hart, Uma Thurman
release US 30.Oct.15, UK 6.Nov.15
15/US Weinstein 1h41
Too many cooks: Miller and Cooper

bruhl rhys sy
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Burnt Despite an engaging cast, this film feels so badly overcooked that nothing about it is believable. While it might have worked as a black comedy, the story is watered down by trite subplots. It also strains to be food porn, but the cuisine is so unattainable that it means nothing. At least it features some strong characters.

Once a top chef in Paris, American-born Adam (Cooper) lost his career due to drug abuse and diva-like excess. After a period of penance, he heads to London to start over and hopefully gain his elusive third Michelin star. But he has no friends left, so he contacts the sympathetic Tony (Bruhl) and worms his way in to run his A-list restaurant, hiring old friends (Sy and Scamarcio) and some talented new ones (Miller and Keeley) to impress the critics and show up his chief rival (Rhys). But will his perfectionism drive everyone away?

There are plenty of possibilities here, but screenwriter Knight tries to amp things up with unnecessary sideroads like lurking loan-shark goons, a mandated therapist (the always terrific Thompson) and a precocious little girl (Benbow-Hart). Cooper is solid enough that it's easy to see the bad boy he once was, and kind of still is, but his transition from a complete monster into the nicest man in cookery isn't terribly convincing, even though he plays it with far more texture than director Wells seemed to want. Miller is strong as his primary foil, but their tepid romance is a nonstarter.

But the food itself shows what's wrong here. Fans of tasting menus will salivate at Adam's succulent creations, but there's no escaping the fact that these dishes aren't about eating: they're about elitism and performance art. Most people can never access this world; they'll never even be able to find the ingredients. So the nods to street food and a burger chain feel almost condescending.

Still, the film glides along amiably, holding the attention with dramatic histrionics and interaction that bristles with a range of emotions from lust and respect to impatience and jealousy. Nicely, most of these things lurk unspoken in the corners, giving the adept cast something to play with as scenes are littered with irrelevant material that diverts the perspective from the central story. In other words, it feels like a nice enough story concocted for the movies, but never like something that could happen in the real world.

cert 15 themes, language 3.Nov.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall