Bradley Cooper starring as a chef in a movie about food and how it reflects life. How can it miss? Exhibit A: Burnt, a cheerless and unappetizing plate of piffle that deserves to be smashed against a wall or at least sent back to the kitchen.
Director John Wells, who botched August: Osage County, and screenwriter Stephen Knight, who should know better (he wrote the brilliant Locke), cooked this mess up and they get all the ingredients wrong. On the surface, Cooper seems a good fit as Adam Jones, a dick-swing American expat who made his name in Paris and then let drugs bring him down. Now, off the junkie train and having done penance in New Orleans by humbly shucking oysters, a sober Adam picks London for a comeback and a chance to achieve his goal: lead a restaurant that earns the ultimate three Michelin stars.
Though he’s pissed off everyone in his wake, Adam persuades his old enemy Tony (Daniel Bruhl) to turn over his own restaurant for Adam’s redemption. For years, Tony has long yearned to get into Adam’s pants, a fact redundantly spelled out by Adam’s therapist (a wasted Emma Thompson). Anyway, Chef Adam builds his crew, including one woman, sous chef Helene (Sienna Miller), a single mom with no real purpose as a character except to give Adam a shot a true love.
Cooper and Miller, so fine in American Sniper, are here just dots to be connected in a script off a moldy menu of clichés about relapse and recovery. Cooper has been advised to ape the mannerisms of reality-show chef Gordon Ramsey, yelling, throwing things and ending every sentence with a nasty, rhetorical, “yeah.” As in, “You’re an idiot, yeah?” or “Get out of my face, yeah?”
This is one stupid, soggy movie, yeah? Adam is such a loathsome, self-pitying human being that you almost root for him to fail, Worse, Burnt gets the food sinfully wrong. The whole premise of this sinking cinematic soufflé is that Adam is an artist with gastronomy. But we never know what goes into his art. We see plates fly by, skillfully arranged turbot, scallops and filets, edited in such a manic blur by Nick Moore that we never get a good look at anything, much less what it tells us about Adam.
Jon Favreau’s underrated Chef made food a representation of the chef’s soul. The same goes for Ratatouille, Babette’s Feast and the classic Big Night. God really is there in the details. The unsavory truth about Burnt is that there is no there there. Adam’s dishes have no personality, no passion, no reason for being — just like this movie. It’s a recipe for cinematic indigestion.