Movie Review
Chef poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published May 12, 2014
US Release: May 9, 2014

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau , John Leguizamo , Scarlett Johansson , Dustin Hoffman

R for language, including some suggestive references
Running Time: 115 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $31,424,000
21 of 111
It wants to be a crowd-pleaser but it doesnít utilize what it couldíve and falls short of what couldíve been.
Judging from the trailer for Chef, I didnít think I was going to like this movie too much because it looked too light and fluffy and I didnít like the look of the story, and I usually donít like movies coming from film festivals, and I especially donít like it when trailers rely on critic quotes to woo you into the theater. Critic quotes are only in art-house trailers to cover up for their lack of commercial value. When I see critics being quoted here, itís like someone telling me: ďLook: These people loved the movie. Youíre going to love it too!Ē which is rarely the case with my sensibility because I feel you should be able to judge for yourself and not have a series of paid-off cheerleaders tell you that this is definitely good. But I was really pissed off from the night before when I gave the horrendous art-house film The Double a chance and I needed something more watchable to clear that from my memory. And when Chef started, I was actually glad I came here because I was on the verge of recommending it in the beginning minutes.

Jon Favreau is a competent director and Iím probably in the minority but I think Swingers (B-) and Made (B-) are better than his Iron Man (C+) movies because with independent film you can do whatever the hell you want to and they were edgier and less cheesy and not family-friendly safe entertainment. Huge blockbusters are made by a series of lame studio committees telling the director what they want to see placed on the big screen and if the director wants the job, they have to listen to all of them. There are exceptions but few of these epic movies are what I want to see and you can always tell when itís a bunch of business executives who made the movie and not simply the filmmaker who is in charge.

Chef is very much a Jon Favreau production if you know what to expect from him on low-key levels, but itís not one of his better movies even though heís only made several and for me only two are good. It starts off pretty entertaining but not solid but I was happy it wasnít the drivel the trailer made it look. Itís amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny Ė there are a few moments where I chuckled decently but the sense of humor doesnít go far enough. Itís kind of edgy but not edgy enough and itís almost like itís designed for family audiences where Favreau was too afraid to go the extra mile of offensiveness. Just when you think the jokes are decent, you wish there were harder jokes that followed up that line. Itís R-rated, meaning you can go the extra mile here, and despite plenty of cussing itís basically PG-13. Thereís no way it couldíve earned a PG-13 but because itís afraid to be very R-rated, itís kind of lame. If youíre going to decide to make an R-rated movie, I feel you should take advantage of the possibilities.

The story is okay but thereís nothing going on to really rope you in. Itís about a talented restaurant chef played by Favreau whoís at odds with his disagreeing boss played by Dustin Hoffman and for the first hour itís about their goal of pleasing the toughest food critic in the city whoís going to be patronizing. If this man doesnít like their food, their restaurant business could be affected and so pleasing is a must. The critic is played by Oliver Platt, who doesnít like the food and he and Favreau get into a big fight. The fight is captured on cell phones and the footage goes viral and Hoffman basically fires Favreau as a result. The rest of the movie is about what Favreau is going to do next and he decides to open up a food truck where he can play by his own rules and not have to answer to a boss telling him what to cook.

One of the problems behind this movie is that it has a good cast and doesnít do much with most of them. Favreau is good and very likable and charming and John Leguizamo as a kitchen helper is decent, but Bobby Cannavale doesnít have much to do here and he had stolen the show in The Station Agent. The casting of Hoffman was pretty much pointless and heís barely even in the movie and that casting choice was probably to lend credibility for older filmgoers who will see his credit and think maybe itís good. Robert Downey Jr. shows up in the second hour and heís absolutely worthless. Heís in the trailer for a second and that scene is the only scene he has. Heís cool to look at but thereís no reason for him. What I really hated was the subplot about Favreau and his divorced wife played by Sofia Vergara. They have zero screen chemistry together and I didnít buy the fact that they were once together in a marriage, and I thought the casting choice of her was horrible because sheís a bad actress. The subplot didnít need to exist and it only took up unnecessary screen time and made the movie drag on longer.

Chef is a two-hour movie and it shouldíve just been 90 minutes just like Swingers and Made. I wouldíve been more tempted to like this movie had I not been forced to sit through various scenes. There were various charms in and around the production but after 90 minutes I just wanted it to end. There arenít any surprises throughout the story and very little suspense about where this is going next. It wouldíve been worse without Favreauís direction because his camera work and tones are adequate. In the beginning, I thought I might actually like this movie but then it never really went anywhere solid. It wants to be a crowd-pleaser but it doesnít utilize what it couldíve and falls short of what couldíve been.
Lee's Grade: C+
Ranked #21 of 111 between Breathe In (#20) and Rosewater (#22) for 2014 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3025 graded movies
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