Will the chef replace the superhero as the next big movie craze? Well, no.
But given the popularity of foodie movies and reality-TV chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay, we can probably expect more films about high drama in the kitchen. Apparently our appetite for Type-A cooks screaming at their underlings about the amount of tarragon in the sauce has not yet been quenched.
“Burnt” is an enjoyable entry in this subgenre, anchored by a rangy Bradley Cooper performance and marbled with food. If you like money shots of seared beef and chocolate cake, you will not be disappointed.
Cooper plays Adam Jones, a once-famous chef who blew his Paris career on drugs and bad behavior. He’s sober now and trying to regain his reputation in London, where he bulls his way into taking over the kitchen at a hotel managed by an old school friend (Daniel Bruhl, from “Rush”).
Adam assembles a crack staff, including a feisty sous chef (Sienna Miller, Cooper’s “American Sniper” co-star) and a Parisian frenemy (Omar Sy, of “The Intouchables”). Ah, but the master chef remains fond of throwing things across the room when he isn’t perfectly pleased.
Screenwriter Steven Knight (“Locke”) does his usual scrupulous job of filling in all the plot possibilities — sometimes too scrupulous. Emma Thompson has a supporting role as a psychiatrist coaxing Adam into taking better care of himself, and Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) has a brief role as Adam’s ex, who represents a bad time in his life.
Cooper’s strong in the role; he’s already established his chops in parts like this. But unlike Cooper’s frequent collaborator David O. Russell, director John Wells lacks the wild streak that might have truly unlocked this material.
“Burnt” goes along, hits some smart notes, and catches a high-pressure milieu. The one thing that’s unusual about it is the way it allows its protagonist to be a jerk.
Adam has a big meltdown halfway through the film, when his opening night turns into a less-than-perfect affair. Movies tend to be so obsessed with having their heroes be “sympathetic” that it’s refreshing to see one act like an unmitigated monster for a while.
Of course, he’ll learn some lessons along the way — as the current “Steve Jobs” reminds us, unsympathetic heroes will usually get their comeuppance before the fade-out. “Burnt” manages that story line with frequently tasty authority.
“Burnt” (3 stars)
Bradley Cooper gives a strong, rangy performance as a chef mounting a comeback after a drug-fueled flame-out. Lots of a food preparation here, plus a familiar story line about redemption — it’s nicely acted and smartly done, even if it never quite gets loose. With Sienna Miller.
Rating: R, for language
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thornton Place Stadium 14, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza