[Screen It]


(2014) (Manish Dayal, Helen Mirren) (PG)

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Dramedy: An Indian family relocates to a small French village where the proprietor of a classic French restaurant directly across the street isn't happy to welcome them as her new culinary competition
Not long ago, the Kadam family, led by Papa (OM PURI) and his wife, ran a successful Indian restaurant in Mumbai. But a violent political protest not only resulted in the death of their matriarch, but also forced them to move out of the country and to London. After an unsuccessful time there, Papa decides to move his family -- Hassan (MANISH DAYAL), Mansur (AMIT SHAH), Mahira (FARZANA DUA ELAHA) and their younger siblings, Mukthar (DILLON MITRA) and Aisah (ARIA PANDYA) -- to mainland Europe.

Then their car ends up breaking down in the small village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. A lovely young woman, Marguerite (CHARLOTTE LE BON), comes to their rescue and feeds them, but Papa's eyes are on an abandoned restaurant on the outskirts of town. Seeing no places offering Indian food, he decides they should open up shop there, something Mansur vehemently thinks is a bad idea. That sentiment is shared by Madame Mallory (HELEN MIRREN), the steely and meticulous owner of a classic French restaurant directly across the street from the shuttered place Papa is interested in buying.

He eventually does, thus putting him, his family and their fledgling restaurant in direct competition with Madame Mallory's well-respected establishment where Marguerite works as the sous-chef and one days hopes to take the place of head chef Jean-Pierre (CLEMENT SIBONY). As the two restaurant veterans take on each other in business battle -- hoping to gain the favors of the local Mayor (MICHEL BLANC) in the process -- Hassan and Marguerite end up having eyes for one another, even knowing that their professions could end up making them rivals as well.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Maybe it's because there are about 5 kajillion free cooking shows on TV, but I'm quite frankly surprised that there aren't more cooking or food related movies in existence, particularly since people like to eat and it's apparent a lot of them like to watch such culinary programming. Granted, such flicks do show up from time to time, such as this summer's "Chef," while other years have offered up the likes of "Ratatouille," "Julie and Julia," "Like Water for Chocolate" and "No Reservations."

Another one that comes to the mind of viewers who like what's crudely (but somewhat accurately) been called "food porn" is the 2000 movie "Chocolat." In it, a stranger (Juliette Binoche) arrives in a small French village and precedes to open a chocolate shop, much to the initial displeasure of the locals (not only because it's Lent, but also because of their close-knit nature, etc.)

The film received okay reviews, was a decent worldwide box office moneymaker, and received 5 Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture. It was also directed by Lasse Hallstrom who now returns to the cinematic sub-genre of culinary works with "The Hundred-Foot Journey." Somewhat surprisingly -- despite being based on the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais -- it also tells the tale of a foodie who arrives in a small French village and opens a restaurant, much to the initial chagrin of the locals.

This time around, that's an Indian man (Om Puri) who ends up with his family (that includes his young adult son/lead cook played by Manish Dayal) in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val after their vehicle's brakes fail (thus eliciting the literal and metaphorical comment that "brakes break for a reason"). As a friendly and quite pretty local woman (Charlotte Le Bon) helps tow them to safety, the patriarch spots an abandoned dining facility and decides that since their past restaurant failed in London, it will certainly work here.

Beyond the fact that there's apparently a good reason no other Indian restaurant exists in this neck of the world, the big problem is the only other real dining choice in town is run and controlled by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). She helms a classic French restaurant (where Le Bon's character just so happens to be the sous-chef) and doesn't take kindly to competition from the new kid in town. Accordingly, she sets out to undermine their opening and thus creates a rivalry between the restaurant veterans, all while their two young subordinates flirt and ponder if two chefs could make a successful recipe for romance.

That's all fine and dandy, and if you have a hankering for watching both Indian and classic French food being prepared and consumed, you might just be satiated. But for a film about food and romance, I found this to be a fairly bland and slow concoction that didn't spur my appetite and felt like it transpired over the time a 20-course meal would take to make and consume, rather than the actual running time of just over two hours.

Part of the problem is that Hallstrom -- who works from Steven Knight's adaptation of Morais' work -- never seems sure where to put most of his focus, be that on the rivalry between the veterans, or the budding romance between the youngsters. Granted, no film has to have a singular dominant story, as many have possessed multiple storylines and still worked. That doesn't here and the pic never really gains traction on either course.

While I could watch Mirren and Puri in just about anything (they're both so magnetic within the characters they play), they're hampered by a predictable story arc that takes them from rivals to associates and then possible lovers. Beyond knowing exactly where that's headed at all times, the script doesn't do them any favors in making the rivalry fun or funny to behold.

Although the rivalry develops later for Dayal and Le Bon's characters, the story doesn't seem to know what to do with them or what sort of relationship to revolve around at any given moment in the pic. It doesn't help that his character's non-romantic trajectory is far too inspired by that of the protagonist in "Doc Hollywood" (talented guy ends up stuck in a small town due to auto issues, falls for the local girl, but eventually makes it to the big city where he realizes that, unlike Eva Gabor's Lisa Douglas, he doesn't adore a penthouse view).

All of that aside, there is something to be said for a film aimed at older viewers that doesn't involve superheroes, car chases and explosions (although there is the somewhat out of place inclusion of a violent scene -- actually two -- that propel and stir the plot in new directions). And I'm sure plenty of people won't mind the sluggish pace, predictability or usual offering of "food porn." It all goes down fairly easily and is pretty to watch (thanks to the work of cinematographer Linus Sandgren), but I just wish -- especially since this is brought up in the story regarding the cooking within it -- that some new spice was added to this all-too-familiar cuisine.

Comfort food for those who go for this sort of thing, but too much of a heaping of cinematic material we've already consumed in previous films, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is okay, but instantly forgettable once it's swallowed. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 31, 2014 / Posted August 8, 2014

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