[Screen It]

"BURNT"
(2015) (Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A once promising but then disgraced chef tries to make a comeback in the business.
PLOT:
Several years ago, Adam Jones (BRADLEY COOPER) was at the top of his game as the head chef of a popular Parisian restaurant. But his ego, demanding ways and hard-partying lifestyle with then girlfriend and fellow drug addict Anne Marie (ALICIA VIKANDER) ultimately resulted in his career demise as he alienated his friends and coworkers. After serving a self-imposed exile of several years of shucking one million oysters in New Orleans, Adam has traveled to London where he wants to start anew. And his target is a restaurant located in a swanky hotel run by Tony (DANIEL BRUHL), a man who watched Adam self-destruct in the past. By inviting a feared food critic to Tony's restaurant, Adam essentially blackmails Tony to hire him to run the place, and Adam then sets out to recruit his kitchen staff, all while being drug tested weekly by Dr. Rosshilde (EMMA THOMPSON) to appease his investors.

Among those he includes are former coworkers such as Michel (OMAR SY), whose competitive restaurant Adam sabotaged in the past, as well as Max (RICCARDO SCAMARCIO) who's just gotten out of prison. New members include young cook David (SAM KEELEY) and Adam's most prized catch, Helene (SIENNA MILLER). She's the single mom to young Lily (LEXI BENBOW-HART) and the sous chef at another restaurant where Adam manages to get her fired so she'll work for him. One person Adam doesn't get is Reece (MATTHEW RHYS), a former friend and coworker who got burned in Adam's meltdown and now runs a rival restaurant.

Still operating with a big ego and his demanding and perfectionist ways, Adam works hard to turn his kitchen into a hit and earn him his third Michelin star, all while finding himself starting to fall for Helene.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I've often wondered whether so-called tortured artists -- incredibly gifted people, in whatever their chosen profession might be, who excel at their craft but make their own and often others' lives hell -- are born that way or if it's something that comes with success.

Is it the nature of their mental wiring or something in their upbringing that causes that? Or do they simply become a victim of their own glory and put too much stock in their own self-image or public perception and adoration of them and thus get, as they used to say, too big for their britches?

I'm sure there have been plenty of psychological studies done on just that, and such characters -- both fictional and based on real people -- have long populated movies. Look at most any biopic ("Ray," "Walk the Line," etc.) and you'll find such folks, while the recently released "Steve Jobs" didn't look far into the past of its title character, but it certainly showcased the caustic mixture of genius and arrogance and superiority.

This week, we have a fictionalized version of such a tortured soul, and we learn about his fall from grace right at the beginning of the cooking drama, "Burnt." In it, the always charismatic Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, once the star chef at a Parisian fine dining establishment who let his ego, temper, perfectionist ways and hard-partying lifestyle derail his promising career and goal of attaining his third Michelin star.

Now, after serving a self-imposed penance of literally shucking one million oysters, he wants back in the game and sets out to score himself a restaurant and staff that with both people from his past and some newbies.

I'll have to admit, the previews for this film make it look as bland and tasteless as some mediocre meal served up by a chain restaurant. Thankfully, it's a bit tastier than that, although it's still about as formulaic as they come and is more notable for its ingredients than the finished serving.

And that's namely Cooper. While he could probably play this sort of egocentric character in his sleep, he's terrific in the role. As is Sienna Miller who plays the talented sous chef he "recruits" to work in his kitchen. The two have good chemistry together, no doubt helped by the fact that they played husband and wife in "American Sniper."

Others are good as well, including Daniel Bruhl as the manager/son of the owner of a swanky hotel where the restaurant is located, and Matthew Rhys as another such man from the protagonist's past who now operates as his rival (but ends up showing him some compassion in a moment of weakness).

Emma Thompson is likewise good but only has a small, recurring part, while I wish there were more scenes featuring Alicia Vikander as Adam's likewise recovering drug addict girlfriend from his past. Uma Thurman oddly shows up for a few seconds as a feared restaurant critic, never to be seen again.

Director John Wells ("August: Osage County," "The Company Men") goes the standard route of mixing the drama with close-ups of the food and its preparation (for all the foodie viewers out there). And while screenwriter Steven Knight ("Pawn Sacrifice," "The Hundred-Foot Journey") occasionally gets in some fun dialogue (particularly between a boyfriend and girlfriend equating Adam's culinary skills to characters from "Star Wars"), he's clearly no Aaron Sorkin (who penned the previously mentioned "Steve Jobs").

The biggest problem is the plot that's serviceable, but offers few surprises in its by the numbers approach to storytelling. There's the inevitable romance between characters, the bad guys from the past for some added tension, and a fall from the wagon that could have been an interesting look at the chronic illness of such troubled souls, but turns out to be a hiccup meets eye-opening turning point for the protag.

For a film where that character warns of mediocrity and the perils of not taking chances with what one's cooking, the irony is that's exactly what it ends up doing. That doesn't make it bad by any means, but it's not as delectable as it wants to be. "Burnt" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 26, 2016 / Posted October 30, 2016


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