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“Chef” is the latest from actor/writer/director Jon Favreau, best known for the “Iron Man” movie series, but well-known in indie movie circles as the writer behind the much-beloved “Swingers.” Given that much of his resume as of late also includes the big-budget likes of “Cowboys & Aliens” and the somewhat underrated “Zathura,” it’s nice to see him return to his indie roots with this film, which probably cost about what the catering on a given “Iron Man” movie came to.
No doubt about it, Favreau called in some big favors for this one. Amongst the cast include decidedly big-name stars like the “Iron Man” himself, Robert Downey, Jr; his “Avengers” sidekick, “Black Widow” Scarlett Johansson; all-time great character actors like Dustin Hoffman and Oliver Platt; plus, for good measure, the delightful Sofia Vergara, of “Modern Family” fame and stand-up comedian/actor John Leguizamo.
The presence of such big stars goes a long way towards ensuring that many more people than would have otherwise been interested in a film like this will end up seeing it anyway. That’s a good thing, because, it’s a worthy film to see, even if it didn’t have the star power. The fact that it does just means that much more people will see it, and that’s always a good thing for an independent film to achieve, especially in this cutthroat economy.
The more people go to see smaller movies, the better chance we have of seeing them in theaters, so I’m all for it, and I’ve always liked it when stars put aside their egos- and their big paychecks- to do something strictly as a labor of love, not a short-cut to big profits.
Of course, it always helps if the movie in question is worth seeing, and thankfully, “Chef” is, and I’m not just saying that because it gives the rare glimpse at a critic that’s maybe not so bad after all, even if they seem pretty awful on the front end. (Hey, the guy has a point- do something original, you’ll get my support; spew out the same old same old, and I’m going to call you on it, too; hurt feelings be damned. It’s kind of the job, people.)
“Chef” tells the tale of a celebrated chef, Carl (Favreau himself), that’s achieved great success but is stuck in a bit of a rut, in part because he’s hamstrung by an uncooperative boss (Hoffman) that only wants him to cook the “usual,” instead of letting him experiment. One night, a big-name food critic comes in and later writes a scathing review about the chef’s work and online chaos ensues, as a less-than-informed Carl rants against him both on Twitter and in person, which then crops up on “YouTube” or what have you.
The latter gets him fired and Carl is forced to re-invent himself, kick-starting a food truck with the help of his ex-wife, Inez (Vergara) and her ex, Marvin (Downey), who front him some cash and the truck in question, respectively. As a bit of payback, Inez has him take along son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who’s out for school on account of it being summer. Accompanying them is loyal side chef Martin (Leguizamo), and the three travel across the US in the truck, stopping at various locales to pop in and feed hungry people at key locations.
One thing I particularly loved about the film was the way it integrated modern technology and showed it through the eyes of both someone older who didn’t quite grasp its inherent power (Carl) and someone (his young son) who totally got what a key part it can play in helping a struggling new business take off in earnest, particularly in regards to promotion and enduring snapshots on the road. I mean, I was halfway ready to seek the food truck out myself by the end of this thing, and follow them online, and so forth, and it’s not even real!
What is real are the delectable dishes that Carl whips up over the course of the movie. Even Hannibal Lecter wouldn’t be able to resist this fine-looking cuisine, despite the overall lack of Solylent Green as a secret ingredient. I couldn’t get to dinner fast enough after watching this movie, let me tell you. Yum.
Speaking of secret ingredients, the film also features a booty-shaking South of the Border collection of Latin-flavored takes on songs you probably know, from Marvin Gaye to Wu-Tang Clan. Groovy! I know I’ll be downloading that sucker ASAP.
All of this combines to make quite a tasty dish, if I do say so myself. I can definitely see people getting this on home video and having a dinner date, with an emphasis on dinner, but you should see it in theaters if you can, if only to support independent film.
Besides, unless your home theater is film screen size, you’re gonna miss out on the beautiful location shooting, drool-inducing food, and the booming soundtrack in their natural habitats, like New Orleans, Austin and Miami. Plus, another Jr. you’d be remiss to miss, Gary Clark, also crops up for good measure, and if you don’t know Gary, you really should.
Oh, I could nitpick and say that the film might have been that much more effective if it were a little shorter, as it clocks in at around two hours, which is a bit much, but, eh, who cares? I mean, the film’s secret hero kind of turns out to be a critic, and how often can you say that? Look at that crap going on in “The Lady in the Water” and you’ll see how we critics are generally perceived by creative types.
Not saying some critics aren’t unduly mean, but hey, if you’re going to try and pass off leftovers as a good meal, we’re going to call you on it. Thankfully, “Chef” serves up the goods, and it gets a solid B+ in my book. Bon Appétit!