Chef (2014)

Sometimes, a movie like Chef is just exactly what you need. Jon Favreau’s latest directorial effort seems a far cry from his Iron Man days and is just about as different as it gets from a fall blockbuster, although Robert Downey Jr. does pop up. The closest you get to an action sequence in Chef is a skillful wielding of a carving knife going to town on a smoked pork loin, which itself certainly isn’t an ascetic display. It’s simple, but that’s not to say it’s ever dull.

The casting for Chef caused an early stir – “the dude who kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe directing and starring in a film also starring Iron Man himself, Black Widow herself, and Sid from Ice Age himself?! Chef is going to be so badass!!” – but the fact of the matter is that Chef isn’t the type of movie that has hype or sequels or post-credit cameos by other superpowered chefs from the same franchise. Chef is a tiny, unassuming, been-there-done-that flick about a guy who really just wants to cook some delicious food. Somehow, that’s supposed to be a compliment.

Favreau is full Guy Fieri (minus the stupid dyed hair) as Chef Carl Casper, relatively renowned at a local restaurant and doing pretty well as he prepares for an upcoming review by a notoriously harsh critic. When the review tears apart not only his cooking but his personal life, Carl loses it (insisting in front of a restaurant full of customers that the chocolate lava cake is sufficiently molten) and is promptly fired. On a whim, he buys a food truck and hits the road with his slightly-estranged son and his good buddy John Leguizamo. Really, everyone should hit the road with their good buddy John Leguizamo when things get rough. Does wonders for me, anyway.

The simplicity of Chef is comforting, at least insofar as we’re able to recognize massive Hollywood icons acting in a movie with a small budget that’s actually good. Favreau isn’t breaking any new ground here, but at a certain point that just stops mattering. It’s entertaining. That’s groundbreaking enough, I’m sad to say, given that the top box office film in the States at the time of writing this is seriously the Ouija movie.

That said, if food isn’t your thing, it’s entirely conceivable that you’ll find Chef boring and one-note. The third act seems a bit rushed, and a few characters that seemed to matter in the opening scenes of the film never even pop back up. The challenge is overcome fairly easily, and after Chef Casper regains his success there’s little else to do besides – well, cook. Favreau could polish his screenplay a little more, sure, but Chef seems content without having to go up for any Academy Awards in the writing categories.

Alongside the entertainment, Chef managed to make me really really hungry. Mouthwateringly so. Cubanos, medianoches, and tostones star alongside aglio e olio and mojo-marinated pork. Yeah, Scarlett Johansson and Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman and Downey Jr. acquit themselves admirably enough, but it’s the food in Chef that steals the show. INSERT OBLIGATORY FOOD PUN (like: “Chef is an off-menu treat!”) HERE.

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