Movie a Day Blog now tries to make an informed decision every time an interesting-sounding movie is released theatrically: is this a big screen experience, best seen in a theater with an audience, or is an acceptable video title, to be watched at home (I refuse to honor the third category, watching on the go).
I picked home video for CHEF (2014), and boy, did I make the right call. There was no reason to see this padded, completely predictable male menopause movie on a big screen because it really didn’t matter how big the endless shots of a colorfully-decorated food truck looked.
Jon Favreau, a talented actor and director, made this a total vanity project: he wrote it, directed it and produced it. I might have thought he edited it, too, given how often I had to confront his meaty frame in close-up, but that job was done by Robert Leighton, a fine editor who cut one of the films I produced, BLAZE (1989).
CHEF is relatively entertaining to watch, and works somewhat on an emotional level as a father-son story, but more due to young Emjay Anthony as Percy (an ill-suited name), the precocious 10-year-old who ends up violating every health code and child labor law in the many states they drive through from Florida to California, offering Cuban sandwiches and the like from the aforementioned food truck.
We hear about nothing but the food truck from Favreau’s supportive ex-wife Vergara (what she was doing with a schlemiel like Favreau is never explained) and co-workers, and then do nothing but dole out food from it for the rest of the film.
In between there’s a little kitchen melodrama between restauranteur Dustin Hoffman and Chef Favreau, or as he prefers to style himself, El Jefe — there’s no modesty on display anywhere in this film– over food blogger Oliver Platt’s bad review, a subplot that goes nowhere.
To give an example of Favreau’s scatter-shot approach to filmmaking, the night he’s fired Favreau rushes home to cook the dream meal he planned to blow Platt’s palate away, does so with great care, and then what? Nothing. The food isn’t eaten, the scene is forgotten, and we’re on to the food truck.
Is there any suspense about what will transpire? Why should there be? We know the food truck will be a big hit (what food truck isn’t, these days), we know Favreau will reconcile with his kid and recognize what a shitty dad he’s been, and Oliver Platt will come to sing his praises and do something no other blogger I ever heard of can do, invest in a restaurant.
Favreau has made some good films (I liked the oddball ZATHURA: A SPACE ADVENTURE (2005)), but he made Hollywood millions with the two mega-successful IRON MAN films, and no doubt he’s suiting up for a third.
CHEF enjoyed considerable success on the indie film theater circuit, even breaking into big chain bookings and a $32 million boxoffice gross. It’s easy to see why: it’s sentimental, reaffirming and the kid is unbelievably cute and affecting.
But the talents of actors such as Hoffman and Bobby Canavale are largely wasted, although John Leguizamo is a pleasure to listen to muttering in the background and doing a killer imitation of Vergara’s Spanish accent. Robert Downey is also a bright spot in one, movie-stealing scene, so Favreau did some things well. But a lot less of him and much more of a story would have made CHEF a more intelligent and interesting film, but not necessarily a more commercial one. I guess you pick up a few things after your IRON MAN movies gross about $2 billion apiece, and subtlety isn’t one of them.