Directed by: Jon Favreau
Released on: May 9th, 2014 LIMITED (July showtimes at Landmark)
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker
After a series of high-concept spectacles including Cowboys & Aliens and the first couple Iron Man films, writer/director/actor Jon Favreau returns to the pleasant, character-driven fare that got his career off the ground with Chef. He stars as Carl Casper, the titular gourmet. A divorced workaholic, he spends the very limited time he has with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), making runs to the farmer’s market and buying ingredients for the Los Angeles restaurant where he serves as head chef.
In anticipation of a visit by prominent restaurant critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), Carl and his crew are hard at work to refine the menu, but restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) forces him to instead keep the familiar menu, for it is his “greatest hits” that built up the clientele. When Carl’s cooking is panned in the review, he joins Twitter, launches a war of words via tweets, and ends up an embarrassing Internet meme. Choosing to keep his integrity rather than bow to the demands of Riva, Carl quits the restaurant.
Out of work and running low on options, he travels to Miami with his son and ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), where he becomes inspired by the city’s authentic Cuban cuisine. With the help of Inez’s other ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.), Carl is given an old food truck as a way to restart his culinary career. Along with Percy and his faithful sous-chef, Martin (John Leguizamo), the three fix up the truck and hit the highways, serving sandwiches to hungry customers on their way back to Los Angeles. The adventure gives the father and son an opportunity for much overdue bonding, becoming even closer in their relationship.
Chef is hilarious, tender and peppered with delightful morsels of mouthwatering eye candy guaranteed to arouse the appetite of the audience, compelling them to get some grub after the movie ends. The relationship that Favreau builds between Carl and Percy works incredibly well, as their father-son bond strengthens throughout the course of the film, showing that family will always be with your regardless of what becomes of your career.
The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language, including some suggestive references,” namely some f-bombs and Cannabis use. This is unfortunate because had these things ended up on the cutting room floor, it would have broadened the film’s audience, perhaps making the film more profitable as well as incentivizing filmmakers and studios to create even more family-friendly fare that isn’t a cartoon or superhero movie. Just a thought, Jon.