Le Chef (2012) / Comedy
aka Comme un Chef
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue, Julien Boisselier
Director: Daniel Cohen
Screenplay: Daniel Cohen, Olivier Dazat
Review published September 5, 2014
Jean Reno (The Pink Panther 2, Flushed Away) plays Alexandre Lagarde, a world famous chef that has lost his culinary imagination, and who may be bounced from his three-star restaurant if he loses an ever-important third star in his rating, which his arrogant boss says will happen since he has heard that the food critics out to assess him despise the classic approach to cooking in favor of trendier, chemically enhanced molecular dishes that Lagarde hasn't the experience or interest in making.
Michael Youn (The 11 Commandments, Lucky Luke) is Jacky Bonnot, a self-made disciple of Lagarde, and a whiz in the kitchen, but who has been unable to keep a job due to his insistence in rudely trying to change the cuisine in the kitchens of low-end eateries (he can't bear to make anything that isn't the very best), much to the consternation of his pregnant girlfriend Beatrice (Agogue, La Rafle), who expects him to stay employed, especially now that they have a baby on the way. By happenstance, Lagarde samples Bonnot's amazing cuisine and decides to try him out as an assistant with in his restaurant as he prepares for the big showdown with the critics. Trouble is, Bonnot is an unpaid intern and has to keep the fact that he's left a paying gig yet again away from his exasperated significant other.
Life imitates art in Le Chef, which, like its main characters, is out to appease a broad audience with an old-fashioned and tried-and-true delivery. As directed and co-written by Daniel Cohen, it's an amiable haute cuisine comedy that feels like a farce from decades ago; one could almost imagine that had this film been made in Hollywood the 1980s, it would star Michael Caine and Steve Martin (who collaborated on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and very little would have been different except for the absence of French langauage. It's a celebration of tradition over innovation in its story, so it should be no surprise that the movie as a whole is rooted in convention.
The real question, though, isn't whether the film is going to break any new cinematic ground, as most who might choose to sample it are really only looking for a few laughs and an amiable time. Does it deliver? For the most part, it does. It is a pleasantly produced extended sitcom with likeable actors and lots of close-ups of some tasty looking meals (don't go in hungry). In other words, it's a film made primarily for those who expect no deviation from the customary dish they select from a fixed menu.
-- There is an additional scene after the credits.
©2014 Vince Leo