Jon Favreau’s culinary comedy is mouth-watering but slightly ass-numbing with satisfying moments offset by an untamed running time and uneven pacing.
Plot: Once-revered cook Carl Casper (Favreau) resorts to a hipster food truck in order to raise his stock after being blogslapped by a food critic (Oliver Platt) and suffering a social media meltdown. A curious mixture of ingredients, the film jumps from insightful, sniggering moments of Woody Allen-lite to rough caramel montages of bargain-bin Tom Arnold-ness. A likeable supporting cast (including Benny Blanco from the Bronx/Luigi Mario/Spider Mike) bring sufficient intrigue to a tame, middle of the road comedy that will fit in cheerfully on a rainy Sunday afternoon on Film4 (provided all the swearing and joint-toking is cut out).
A serious problem here is that on one level, Chef is essentially a two-hour long commercial, irritatingly ramming Twitter and Vine down our throats – to an extent that’s even worse than last year’s The Internship (Google) and Don Jon (PornHub) – unlike those relatively forthright efforts, Chef subtly invites you round to its flat for a light snack before putting the latch on the door and repeatedly face-fucking you with its sickeningly positive aspirational message of enterprise – like that Google Chrome ad you saw on TV that made you have a panic attack because this 15-year-old kid’s online music channel is ‘blowing up’ and you’ve done nothing with your life.
Despite all this, Chef is actually quite enjoyable overall – the father/son relationship line packs enough punch and it’s major theme (food and culture as moments of joy we buy, sell and sometimes give each other in universal harmony – “Dude, it’s all about living in the moment!”) is served up well (I’m running out of food-related descriptions). That reminds me, the film’s initial foodie scenes are appetising – but by the time the credits roll, you’ve seen that many brisket sliders, you feel a bit sick. As in Jon Turturro’s Fading Gigolo, Favreau has also (on his second outing as writer, director AND leading man) presented us with an obscene case of curiously misjudged casting – I know this guy make’s a decent bit of scran – but do we honestly buy that he has Scarlett Jonansson and Sofia Vergara clambering for his affections? It’s jarring elements like this that almost jeopardize the film’s “meh” rating – I half-expected Gordon Ramsey to make a cameo near the end, munching a Mojo Pork Cubano and turning to Carl: “Not bad”.