By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on June 08, 2014

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Dear Orlando Hurtado

Dear Orlando,

When you took this catering job, you probably already knew that Jon Favreau was the film's writer, director, producer, and star. What you may have been surprised (and relieved) to learn is that, despite these many roles, Favreau is no chef. This isn't clear because he's an unconvincing actor (the man can chop!), but because he had the humility to include an end-credits outtake in which food truck chef extraordinaire Roy Choi teaches him how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Favreau admires how Choi slides the sandwich to the warmest parts of the grill and dotes over it until the buttered bread reaches a golden brown hue. Nothing fancy, nothing special. Just an old staple stuffed with expensive cheese. Just like this film.

The famous fromage, in this case, is Scarlett Johansson, Dustion Hoffman, and Robert Downey Jr., all of whom don't get 15 minutes screen time between them, though you can hardly blame Favreau for throwing in his favourite top shelf ingredients. The problem is, they're given thankless roles. Actually, less than thankless in the case of Johanssen, who has to look hungrily at the schluppy Favreau as he prepares a post-coital pasta. It's enough to make you lose your lunch.

This occurs when Favreau isn't hanging out with his other voluptuous love interest, Sophia Veraga. She's supposed to be his ex-wife, some undefined proto-celebrity (which makes her marriage to a kitchen chef even less believable), whose publicist wants a cut of that spicy Favreau-action after his Twitter war turns into face-to-face meltdown (and viral video) with a famous food critic named Ramsey (get it?--chef reference!). And thus, very slowly, we get to the meat of the story, in which Favreau starts his own food truck and tries to reconnect with his son on a cross-country trek.

Much to your delight, scarcely a scene goes by without food-porn close-ups or impassioned sermons about what cuisine really means. The missing ingredient, however, is comedy. Or character. Or consequence. In the same way Favreau's chef rebels against pandering to popular taste with familiar pleasures, Favreau the director seems determined to avoid settling on any one genre. The result, however, is less a re-invention of simplicity than simple blandness. Inoffensive, passable, but certainly nothing that would inspire cravings for repeated viewings. At least, no to my taste.

Sending it back to the kitchen,


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