COURTESY MERRICK MORTON/OPEN ROAD FILMSFrom left

COURTESY MERRICK MORTON/OPEN ROAD FILMSFrom left

Palatable ‘Chef’ lacks bite

A combination road tale, father-son dramedy, and valentine to the grilled cheese sandwich, Jon Favreau’s “Chef” is agreeable.

But as its title character ditches his prestigious restaurant kitchen, sets up shop in a food truck, and rediscovers his culinary calling, accompanied by shots of glorious grub, the movie proves more visually enticing than emotionally satisfying.

Favreau provided winning human connection in his screenplay for 1996’s “Swingers,” which he followed with a rough but witty directorial debut, “Made.” Big studios tapped him for “Elf,” two “Iron Man” films, and the unremarkable “Cowboys and Aliens.” With “Chef,” the writer-director-star returns to small-scale terrain.

Favreau plays Carl Casper, a Los Angeles chef who has capable underlings (Bobby Cannavale, John Leguizamo), a sometimes girlfriend in floor manager Molly (Scarlett Johansson), a caring ex-wife named Inez (Sofía Vergara), and a deserving 10-year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony).

Adamant about maintaining creative control, Carl seethes when his play-it-safe boss (Dustin Hoffman) instructs him to cook only his “greatest hits” when a powerful restaurant critic (Oliver Platt) visits. The critic scathingly pans the meal. In response, Carl instigates verbal, viral war.

Left jobless, Carl travels with Inez and Percy to Miami, where, courtesy of Inez’s first husband (a hilarious Robert Downey Jr.), Carl acquires a food truck. Assisted by Percy and Leguizamo’s grill-chef character, Carl spruces up the vehicle and starts serving Cuban street food. The back-to-basics venture triumphs, father and son bond, and Carl falls in love with cooking again on the cross-country journey.

A pleasant presence on both sides of the camera, Favreau supplies nothing easy to dislike.

As a food flick, the movie has everything from a dice-and-slice montage to overhead shots of artfully arranged California cuisine to cheesy food-truck chow that aces the close-up.

As a road comedy, it makes up for sloppiness with irresistible local-flavor bites, including a memorable stop in New Orleans, where Carl introduces Percy to beignets.

The characters have camaraderie, and actor Favreau is believable and embraceable as a culinary artist.

Still, the overall grill is low on sizzle, and the storytelling could use more risk, substance, and spice.

For one thing, it’s not convincing that Carl is seriously struggling.

As often happens in stories where disillusioned adults become reinvigorated when interacting with a child, the kid scenes receive inordinate screen time, at the expense of edgier, richer material. Platt’s “hater” and Cannavale’s sous chef, potentially interesting characters played by good actors, particularly suffer in this regard.

The Hollywood ending, like too much of this promising film, suggests the recipe book.

REVIEW

Chef ★★½

Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony

Written and directed by Jon Favreau

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutesartsChefJohn LeguizamoJon FavreauMovies

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott leaves the scene of an officer-involved shooting at Brannan Street and Jack London Alley in the South Park area on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chief Scott issues rare apology to man shot by SF police

Officer says he ‘did not intend for his firearm to go off’

Despite the pandemic, San Francisco has ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Better than expected tax revenues leave city with $157.3M surplus for this year

As the fiscal year nears an end and Mayor London Breed prepares… Continue reading

Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
BART bumps up service restoration to August 30, offers fare discounts

Rail agency breaks pandemic ridership records, prepares to welcome more passengers

Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa hold a photo of their brother Sean Monterrosa, who was killed by a Vallejo police officer early Tuesday morning, as they are comforted at a memorial rally at the 24th Street Mission BART plaza on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
State Department of Justice to investigate Sean Monterrosa shooting by Vallejo police

Attorney General Rob Bonta steps in after Solano County DA declines case

Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Why Gavin Newsom’s popularity could work against him in the recall election

Top pollster: ‘We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem…’

Most Read