Do you like food? Do you like movies? Do you like movies about food? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might enjoy Eater at the Movies, a new column by Joshua David Stein which examines eating and drinking on screen.
Sometimes I wonder what Travis Bickle would think of Jack Byrnes or how the Terminator T-800 model would gaze upon the Terminator T-850. Probably much the same way I do at the naked old men in the locker room of my gym: both dismissively and a bit sadly because soon my flesh will soon droop, my stomach will eclipse my penis, and I'll have to endure the judge-y looks of some taut young punk. But in the case of Jean Reno, the tragically faced French actor, I'm pretty sure Léon from The Professional — his first and best role — would murder immediately Alexandre Lagarde, the character Reno plays in the absolutely foul new film, Le Chef.
This review is obviously a pan, but it is also an attempt to understand how these particularly odious 84 minutes of film ever passed through the security checks which, by and large, prevent shit from reaching fruition. Le Chef is the General Motors of food movies.
Is the problem the plot? Partially. The plot is at once formulaic and far-fetched, obvious, and obviously awful. Jacky Bonnot (puppy-faced Michaël Youn) is an autodidact line cook and recipe savant. Though his impossibly and unrealistically gorgeous girlfriend Beatrice (Raphaele Agogue) is nine months pregnant, he simply can't bear to cook french fries when TKFANCYASSDISHTK would do. He is often fired.
Alexandre Lagarde (Reno), meanwhile, is a three-star Michelin chef whose Parisian restaurant, Cargo Lagarde, is about to be taken from him by a ruthless restaurateur, Stanislas Matter (Julien Boissilier). The Michelin critics are coming and Matter is hell-bent on sabotaging Lagarde's cuisine, using the loss of a star or two to justify removing Lagarde and installing a more "modernist" chef in his place.
Three ethnic stereotypes: Chang, Titi, and Moussa. [Photo: Cohen Media]
Meanwhile, to please his preggo GF, Jacky gets a gig painting window frames at a nursing home. But one day, enraged by the sloppy technique he sees through the window he's painting — see what they did there? — he climbs into the kitchen and organizes the three ethnic stereotypes who work therein into a crack pot kitchen brigade. Their names are literally Chang, Titi, and Moussa. One day whilst visiting the father of said rapacious restaurateur, Lagarde is tempted to try Jacky's TKSOUPTK which, it turns out, was actually made from a recipe of Lagarde's circa TKYEAR. Guess what happens?!?!??! No, really, guess.
[Oh, and if you're wondering why there are so many TKs in this piece, it is because I simply can't bear to go back to rewatch the movie to fill them in. TK is, by the way, journalistic shorthand for "to come." There are various theories as to its origin but the one I like best is that there are no words with TK so all you need to do is a quick search for TK to find all the facts you need to fill in. That sounds great, unless you are writing about latkes.]
Of course Jacky ends up working as Lagarde's second-in-command, despite never having managed a kitchen before. But his palate is so attuned and skill so virtuosic, he immediately knows how to expedite. This is just one of the many sloppy shorthand moves that render the movie unwatchable to anyone with even a passing familiarity with food. And since we all eat food, that means all of us.
The closest thing to cooking is sniffing. [Photo: Cohen Media]
Perhaps it is unfair but a movie like Le Chef, originally called Comme Un Chef when it was released in France in 2012, begs comparison with Jon Favreau's movie Chef. After seeing how much richer and more satisfying a culinary film can be if the actor puts in the time to learn at least the rudimentary chef skills and the screenwriter puts in the time to get some of the kitchen fundamentals correct, a half-assed movie like Le Chef is really galling. Does Jean Reno have to trail Alain Ducasse for weeks on end? No, though it couldn't hurt. But the extent of either Reno's or Youn's actual cheffing is just tasting a spoonful of some mysterious soup and then developing a wistful faraway look. This is a food movie which doesn't give a shit about food.
That's a pretty venial sin. But say the rest of the movie didn't feel like watching styrofoam floating in a bay, it wouldn't be deadly. Sadly, literally every aspect of this movie falls flat. It's an ugly stupid film. It's racist and atavistic. In one scene, TKTK, a modernist chef from Spain, arrives to remake Lagarde's food with "duck cubes" and the like. Of course this proves disastrous and he leaves in a Iberian modernist huff. It's hilarious, see, because modernist cuisine is for assholes.
It's not racist if it's about Asians. [Photo: Cohen Media]
Later, in an extended scene which is really shameful — and not because it's bad but because it is wrong — Youn dresses as a geisha and Reno as a samurai in order to spy on another chef's restaurant. There's a lot of giggling and ugly racial stereotypes. Jacky puts things into his kimono sleeves. The scene lasts for over five minutes and it is incredibly unfunny. It is not funny on any level and offensive on every level.
As the movie grinds to its inevitable unlikely conclusion — Matter bars merchants from selling product to Lagarde so Jacky goes to the corner grocer (run by another racial stereotype) and buys the entire inventory and cooks an amazing meal and the critics are wowed and Lagarde retires and Jacky takes over — there's plenty more to which to object: sexism, shoddy action, shitty camera work, a general desultory attitude. But honestly, the film doesn't deserve any more attention.
Recently I wasted a few minutes reading BuzzFeed's The 35 Dumbest Things That Have Ever Happened. It was hilarious but by the end of it, I felt more stupid, as if the stupidity was so potent I had caught it. But at least it was fun getting dumber. Le Chef, on the other hand, is just 84 minutes of brain-starving misery.
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars
Video: Le Chef Trailer
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