Is it me, or has my stomach just been ripped to shreds?
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a professional chef working in a place that allows him to make whatever sort of menu he wants to and command the kitchen the way he wants, however, he still butts heads with his boss (Dustin Hoffman) every so often. Still though, cooking food for plenty to enjoy is what Carl lives off of and loves; maybe even more than life itself. So, he just goes with the flow most of the time, and lets people know that he knows a thing or two about making some grade-A quality grub. Problems arise though when Carl goes head-to-head with a popular food blogger (Oliver Platt) who absolutely trashes him in a scathing review. This brings Carl to not only confront him in an anger-filled, rage-like way, but to also quit because he doesn’t like the way things are going with the restaurant. This brings Carl to a crossroads in his life: either a) apologize to his former-boss, get his job back, and continue to take orders from schmucks who don’t know the difference between a crepe and a pancake, or b) start up his own food-truck business in which he has command over everything, and may even get a chance to rekindle a relationship with his son (Emjay Anthony).
Decisions, decisions for Mr. Carl Casper, and plenty of Cuban sandwiches to eat along the way.
Before I get into the actual details of what I felt about this movie, first thing’s first: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT come into this movie on an empty-stomach. As if that wasn’t already obvious enough by the plot, the foodgasms-filled trailer, and heck, even the title itself, just know, you must eat a hearty meal before seeing this. I don’t care if it’s a home-cooked meal, something you picked up on the go from Burger King, or a small bowl of Ramen Noodles (gotta think about the college kids here) – just do not see this movie without at least a meager amount of food in the pit of your stomach.
Because, if you don’t, you’ll be screwed. No matter what goes on in this movie, you’ll constantly be thinking about what you’re going to have when you get home, be getting constant head and stomach-aches, and maybe even think that that $13 large popcorn may do the trick to cure whatever hunger problems you may be having. You may enjoy the movie still, for sure, but all will be in your mind is how much longer this film is going to go on so that you can go home, and cook up some fresh Hot Pockets and call it a night.
And the reason why I’m harping so much on the idea of eating food before seeing this, because you don’t want to be distracted during this movie. Trust me, it’s a pretty good one that you don’t want to forget about because you couldn’t get that half-slice of pepperoni left-over in your fridge, out of your mind. You’re going to want to enjoy yourself during this movie, because, quite frankly, that’s what Jon Favreau wants you to do. Sure, he also wants you to rub your tummy like you’re playing an old-fashioned game of “Simon Says”, but he also wants you to enjoy the fun-filled spirit of this movie, and just about everybody in it.
Pretty fitting that it’s released in the summer, eh?
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that with Chef, Favreau clearly isn’t trying to go for anything life-changing. There’s a lot of talk about him changing his life, being a better mate, being a better father, and being a better person that’s open to criticism, but it’s all there in sprinkles to make it seem like this story is more than just Jon Favreau and friends laughing, cracking jokes, and making food for nearly two-hours. Don’t get me wrong, that type of movie actually excites me, but I could probably do the same thing with half of my buddies, spend less money, and maybe even have a better time than simply watching these peeps do it.
Actually, that’s a lie. I’d totally have a better time hanging out with the likes of John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale. Sorry to any of my friends that are reading this, but what can I say? They’re rich and they’re funny. Can’t ever go wrong with that!
High-lighting the cast would actually probably be the best way to go about with this movie, because they really are the reason why this movie works as well as it does. Sure, Favreau’s style and script is very funny, charming and heartfelt at times, but anybody can make an alright script; it’s the cast you work with, and how much they are able to elevate into being something more that really matters. And here, with this ensemble, which is basically just anybody Jon Favreau’s ever made a movie with (i.e. partied and did blow with), with the exception of Vince Vaughn. Pretty weird, right? You have just about anybody in the biz that Jon Favreau can call “a friend”, and yet, no Vince Vaughn.
Guess Couples Retreat really tore those two apart. Oh well. RIP Vince and Jon. Maybe one of these days they’ll be money again. Who knows.
Anyway, like I was saying about the cast, everybody that shows up here is fun and entertaining to watch, even if they only show up for a little over five minutes or so. Case in point, Robert Downey Jr.’s near-cameo as Carl Casper’s ex-wife’s ex-husband, who is the type of character you’d expect to see RDJ to play: Weird, off-kilter, goofy, fast-talking, and always acting as if he’s on another planet. However, with the limited screen-time, he makes it all so worth the while and leaves us wondering why the hell he doesn’t just do more movies without superheros and Guy Ritchie. I mean seriously: Come back to being a human, RDJ! There’s nothing at all wrong with that, dammit!
Others that pop-up ever so slightly too, are folks like Scarlett Johansson as Casper’s possible love-interest, who, weirdly enough, looked like my sister with her black hair, black bangs, black dresses, and tattoos. So every time the two would be hooking up or doing anything remotely sexual, I automatically got creeped-out. But hey, I guess my sister could do a lot worse, so good for her if that ever does happen! Dustin Hoffman also shows up for a small bit as the Casper’s boss that, can be a bit of a dick, but in reality, is just trying to keep his business afloat and do whatever’s best for his joint, even if that means getting rid of some of the best talents it may have to offer. You know, sort of like a real business man.
Also to mention, again sort of, is Oliver Platt as the critic that gives Casper a written-dialogue spanking that is actually a lot more terrible than some of the reviews I’ve seen on sites like Yelp, but still feels real, especially in the way Casper reacts to him in a way that’s both cruel, funny, and a bit sad, considering Platt’s character is a critic, doing what he does best: Critiquing. Sofia Vergara shows up as Casper’s ex-wife who is very wealthy and seems like she’d be a total shrew, but is actually supportive and nice to Casper, even when he seems to be a bit of a dick to everyone around him; Emjay Anthony is a good fit as Casper’s son who is a bit needy at times, but still feels like a kid who just wants to hang with his dad and get to know him about more; and, in case I didn’t need to re-iterate this anymore than I already have, it’s always lovely to see John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale show up in anything, and here is no different. They’re funny, exciting, cool, and always bringing the room’s volume up to at least an 11. My heroes.
But, in the middle of all this is Jon Favreau, who, considering this is a movie he single-handedly wrote, directed and put together all himself, could have easily made this a movie where he gets to do all of the heavy-lifting and show why he’s the man. But he doesn’t. Rather, Favreau is kind and allows everybody else to work off of him and get the most attention from the crowd; while in honesty, he’s the real heart, soul, and charm of this movie. As a whole cast, they make it better, but with Favreau at the dead-center of it all, just acting like that normal, everyday-man we all loved seeing him act like before, he keeps it all grounded and sincere. Without him, this movie would have never been made. Yet, without him, this movie wouldn’t have been so lovely to watch. Nor would it have been as delicious to look at neither.
Consensus: Not the deepest movie ever made, yet, Chef is still able to slide by with a charming ensemble, well-written script, and many food delights to make you reconsider the next time you ever think McDonalds is a suitable dinner.
7.5 / 10 = Rental!!