Chef15 ¦ DVD, Blu-ray
Trends. Film and TV are always searching for the latest viewing zeitgeist, and once they've discovered one, boy do they pile it on. For instance, you don't need to have a super power to work out that the current trend in films is for superhero titles. And for TV, the dish of the day is food shows.
It's become so bad that where once Saturday morning was the home of enjoyable kid's TV, now you’re more likely to find some northerner puntastically encouraging well known chefs to transform eggs into inedible omelettes in record time, week after week. Sad days indeed.
This trend for foodie shows is so big right now that there are even entire channels devoted to the stuff. Actor, director, and dare we say it, all round good egg Jon Favreau has not only tapped into this current trend with his latest film, but he has also added another ongoing flavour of the month too – social media. It has to be said that the final result won't be to everyone's taste.
A nervous excitement is growing in Chef Carl Casper's kitchen; an infamous food critic is set to visit their restaurant and Carl wants to mark the occasion by changing the very stale menu and rustling up something different. Unfortunately Riva (Dustin Hoffman), the owner of the restaurant, doesn't agree. He believes that the tried and tested menu is what customers expect from the talented chef and anything new would be too risky.
Carl backs down and sticks to the old menu. Unsurprisingly the review is a negative one. Although he doesn't quite understand the technology, Carl takes to Twitter and sends the critic a private tweet – or so he thinks - conveying his outrage at the review. It transpires that his tweet wasn't private at all, and in fact the whole world saw sit, stirring up a social media frenzy between the pair.
Feeling hurt, Carl challenges the critic to return to the restaurant for some real food. But once again, Riva coq(-au-vin) blocks and Carl is forced into serving up the same old dross. The result sees Carl confront the critic in person, making for an uncomfortable scene in the restaurant which leads to him quitting.
Disillusioned, Carl doesn't quite know what to do next. He then gets the idea of going back to basics as far as his food knowledge is concerned and focuses on the Cubanos, a type of meaty Cuban sandwich. But where to serve it? As this type of food was born on the street, he decides there's no better place to take it, and decides to re-furb a tired old food truck. With the unknown on the horizon, Carl drives off with his mobile kitchen with the hope the public have an appetite for his tasty street food.
In recent years Favreau appears to have been seduced more by directing than acting, having helmed big budget titles such as the first two Iron Man films as well as Cowboy and Aliens. Much like his character Carl, this film sees him going back to his (indie) roots. But unlike the Cubanos sandwiches he creates in the film, he probably spreads himself too thin as he has written, stars in and directs this feature.
There's no denying that Favreau the actor is extremely amiable. He carries a certain everyman charm about him, which means you can't help but root for him. His everyman qualities go AWOL here however; Favreau quickly leaps from the realms of reality into fantasyland with his on-screen antics. It's not his abilities as a chef that are hard to swallow, but his relationships with the fairer sex. In what strange, alternative world would Scarlett Johansson be Jon Favreau's girlfriend exactly? And just when you're trying to get your head around that bombshell, we discover that he's married in the film to none other than (Modern Family's) Sofia Vergara! Obviously films are all about the suspension of belief, but those bizarre casting decisions just take it too darn far.
Elsewhere the film has a Hallmark channel film of the week feel. It's at its most clawing when the father and son relationship comes into play; these scenes in particular are the equivalent of cinematic food poisoning. And just when it couldn't get any worse, there's some awful product placement advertising for Twitter that hangs around like a bad smell.
It would be great to say that Robert Downey Jr's almost cameo role saves the day, but the actor tries so hard to be edgy and unhinged that it just swings the believability barometer swiftly from the mundane to the ridiculous.
Favreau has said that with the big studios pumping out big budget flicks, the indie film is a dying breed. It's true, and yet despite its smaller budget, Chef isn't really an indie film. Perhaps by being sucked up by Marvel and its evil ways, Favreau has had all his wonderful experiences of indie filming (Swingers and Made in particular) zapped out of him.
If Chef were a meal, it would swiftly be sent back to the kitchen with the note that it was offensively bland.