Burnt cooks Cooper to a golden brown

Iron pecs Chef

Bradley Cooper brings A-lister status to the world of rock star chefs, completing the ancient circle of food worship, and the gods who let us pleasure in the flesh

Burnt

3/5

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson

Directed by: John Wells

Running time: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

Bring it on Bacchus. In a moment of pop culture paganism, it’s your time to feast. The cult of food has saturated every frame of our current reality, from an overpriced desire for gourmet gas stoves to Anthony Bourdain’s rise as the foodie version of Lenoard Cohen.

We’re in love with restaurants and fine wine and every trickle of truffle oil because, as the marketers say, we’re looking for an “experience” more than a gut-filling meal, and in order to deliver, you need a rock star chef with all the swagger of Mick Jagger and all the culinary joie de vivre as Julia Child.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is all that — served on a silver platter. A tall, handsome and highly talented two-star Michelin chef who used to make the girls swoon and the boys drool, Adam was the toast of Paris but celebrity got the better of him: He snorted his fortune and flushed his career down the toilet.

It’s what happens when you start to believe you’re a god to gourmands, but Burnt picks up after the fall, after Adam has wandered around the world of man seeking a means of redemption. Instead of reciting a hundred Hail Marys, he shucks a million oysters – then takes his battered hands back to Europe, hoping his old friend Tony (Daniel Brühl) will take him on at his new hotel.

Refusing to take no for an answer, Adam finally wins him over with the promise that he’ll behave, and he’ll win his third Michelin star, making Tony’s place a worldwide smash.

The dilemma is wonderfully simple and the plot so elegantly thin that with one strong ingredient and a few good seasonings, you can cook up a decent dish – providing you’re on top of the temperature.

Burnt recognizes it has to push the heat to get the most out of its characters, and director John Wells (Shameless) keeps the Bradley factor in the frying pan in just about every scene, working the Oscar-nominated actor to a buttery golden brown.

It makes for a pretty good show. Cooper cooks up sweet and juicy in just about every role he plays, so watching the him sizzle on the griddle of short-order Shakespeare set against the backdrop of Europe’s fine cuisine is a ready pleasure.

Cooper’s beefy American presence paired with some Sienna Miller and creme Brühl-é — with a side of Omar Sy, Uma Thurman and Alicia Vikander — means you’re going to get the full course meal with a dollop of Emma Thompson for dessert.

It’s a menu with so many tasty things, it can’t really miss – but it may leave you feeling a little empty because for all of Cooper’s meat, the taste doesn’t really change.

The whole point of Adam’s transformation is to become a better man through better cooking. But of course, in order to do that properly, he needs the help of others who can make his dishes excel, be it with a sauce or a soufflé.

In short, he needs to convince the good-looking sous-chef (Miller) that he’s more than a flaming squirt of sherry in a skillet greased with arrogance.

We can forgive the life-as-cooking metaphors, just like we can forgive the cooking-as-art conceit, because we’re living it. Our lives have become one long episode of Iron Chef, where winning at something like cooking actually resonates for people.

Adam’s struggle to win at food preparation is played out with all the melodrama and montage of an athlete training for the Olympics, and that’s fine – because who doesn’t want an Olympics where you get to eat the results?

Yet, Burnt does feel a little overcooked. Cooper is working so hard to extract the drama from his character, Adam Jones feels a little dry and tough instead of juicy and transformed.

Even Jon Favreau’s Chef found a way to sell the transformation from egotistical jackass to creative risk-taker without feeling entirely formulaic.

Burnt doesn’t have the same depth because it’s too distracted by its greasy milieu and all the glamorous fixings: beautifully tailored clothes, white linen service, Michelin stars and the nascent world of celebrity chefs.

At times, the detailed look behind the scenes are the best parts, such as a temper tantrum at a competitor’s restaurant — a minimalist room with long tables, white walls and billboard-sized abstract pieces. It looks like an art gallery meets prison mess hall. And perhaps that’s the best way of describing the experience of being a top chef: creating works of culinary art inside a strictly controlled environment.

Cooper makes this movie work because he’s got all the required charisma to keep us watching, but the script contains too many familiar ingredients and prepares them with all the originality of a over-baked potato, making Burnt more of a formula burger than film filet.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, October 30, 2015

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