Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Daniel Cohen
Stars: Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue, Julien Boisselier, Salomine Stevenin, Serge Lariviere, Issa Doumbia, Bun-hay Moon, Pierre Vernier, Santiago Segura.
This moderately enjoyable culinary comedy from France is, to use an appropriate cooking analogy, more of a lightweight appetiser rather than a satisfying, mouth watering three-course meal.
Jean Reno plays Alexander Lagarde, the perfectionist veteran celebrity chef who runs the three star restaurant Cargo Lagarde. But his restaurant and his reputation are under threat from Stanislaw (Julien Boisselier), the ambitious, self-centred new CEO, who wants to remodel the kitchen and embrace “molecular cuisine”, in which chemicals are used to distil the essence of the food into bite sized chunks. Since he can fire Alexandre if the restaurant loses its renowned rating, the weasly Stanislaw sets about undermining the legendary chef.
Jacky Bonnot (singer, comedian and media personality Michael Youn) is also a brilliant young chef, albeit of a different calibre. “The Mozart of the kitchen” and “vegetable whisperer,” as he is called, has a passion for cooking. He knows all of Alexandre’s recipes by heart and replicates them while cooking, even in greasy spoon eateries with a largely blue-collar clientele. His temperament, refusal to compromise on quality, and insistence on exotic menus leads to him being fired from four restaurants in four weeks. His pregnant and exasperated girl friend Beatrice (Raphaelle Agogue) insists that he get a proper job so he can support the three of them.
Jacky ends up working as a handy man at an old people’s home, but he cannot keep away from the kitchen. Which is how Alexandre discovers him, and hires him on a whim. It may well be the decision that changes all their lives and fortunes around.
The odd couple chemistry between the two chefs should have created some combustible comic sparks, but unfortunately the film bubbles along without reaching any great heights. The scene in which Reno and Youn dress as a Japanese couple to spy on a rival restaurant’s new molecular cuisine is something of a flat spot.
Reno delivers his usual solid and dependable performance in a role that doesn’t demand much. Youn is a bundle of energy and has an affinity for physical comedy, and his mannerisms and comic style is reminiscent of Martin Short in his prime. However, the contrasting style of the two stars does not always provide big laughs.
Actor turned director Daniel Cohen (Une vie de Prince, etc) keeps things bubbling along nicely, and with a relatively brisk running time of 84 minutes it never outstays its welcome. The script, from Cohen and Olivier Dazat, pokes fun at the French obsession with cuisine and the fanciful concept of molecular gastronomy. There are also a couple of subplots that add interest, including Alexandre’s relationship with his daughter, who is preparing for her thesis.
But Le Chef ultimately seems a little underdone. This is a slight, half-baked comedy that is temporarily nourishing, but hardly makes for enriching cinema.