Now playing at an art house near me:
CHEF (Dir. Jon Favreau, 2014)
Jon Favreau's modest directorial follow-up to his critically panned 2011 sci-fi western COWBOYS AND ALIENS, could be seen as a plea for small scale indie cred away from the special effects and major studio interference, but it's likable enough to make me forget about that. It also made me very hungry - even though I came to it with a full stomach.
Favreau casts himself as an acclaimed Los Angeles chef working for a popular restaurant run by Dustin Hoffman. When a food blogger (a wonderfully smug Oliver Platt) gives our title character a bad review, Favreau takes to the internet and engages in a twitter battle with the critic. Of course, Favreau is new to the online world so his precocious, pre-teen kid (Emjay Anthony) schools him in the jargon, and before long he's trending.
Hoffman fires Favreau after he has a crazy meltdown in the middle of the restaurant in the presence of Platt, a cellphone video of which quickly goes viral, and the big lug decides to give his ex-wife's (Sofia Vergara) advice to give the food truck business a go.
This involves a one scene cameo by Favreau's IRON MAN buddy Robert Downey Jr. as Vergara's first husband, who hooks up Favreau with a old, beat-up truck that he refurbishes in one of the movie's many music-driven montages, dubs the El Jefe Cubanos, recruits his fellow friend cooks John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale, and hits the road.
With the help of his computer whiz son Anthony live-tweeting their cross country trip, Favreau's travelling cuisine-mobile is a huge success. The frothy follow-your-dream theme may be more than a little saccharine, but Favreau's film genuinely seems to believe in it.
With its wall-to-wall Latin-flavored soundtrack, overhead close-ups of immaculately arranged food cooking (lovingly shot by cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau), rambling rom com beats, and the orange-hued sampling of the culinary culture of Miami, New Orleans, and Austin, CHEF is an overstuffed Cuban sandwich of a movie.
Serving as triple threat (writer/director/star) for the first time since 1999's MADE, Favreau didn't trim any fat off when preparing this movie meal, resulting in an overlong, montage-heavy, second half.
Favreau even allows for a sing-along scene, in which he harmonizes with Leguizamo on the Hot 8 Brass Band's horn-driven cover of Marvin Gaye's “Sexual Healing.” This mildly amusing yet incredibly superfluous bit should've been only available as a deleted scene on the later Blu ray/DVD release.
Also, the casting of Favreau's movie star pals, such as Downey Jr., and another IRON MAN alumni, Scarlett Johanssen, as a hostess who gets turned on by watching Favreau cook, come off like phoned-in favors just to raise the movie's marquee value.
Still, the foodie-centric CHEF has a affable spirit to it - a party spirit with a lot of watchable activity, and familiar faces. Favreau's comedy dish here is no pièce de résistance, but it's a pleasant enough platter of food, folks, and fun.