Enter BRADLEY COOPER, wearing a leather jacket.
Now, enter Bradley Cooper in a leather jacket on a motorcycle with a shiny set of sharpened knives cradled tenderly under his arm. Immediately, his self-assured swagger, coy smile, and odd collection of cutlery identify him as one of two stock characters: he’s either a style-savvy drug addict ready to shank someone in the nearest dimly-lit alleyway, or that stereotypical bad boy whose apathetic exoskeleton conceals good intentions and a feverish desire to redeem himself through his craft.
Or maybe—as is the case in John Wells’ most recent dram-com Burnt—he’s a dull combination of those two predictable personas (except, well, he can cook).
Cooper plays the film’s wayward protagonist Adam Jones—a self-made sous chef who disappears from the forefront of French cuisine at the pinnacle of his culinary career. After spiraling into a bleak lifestyle of desire-driven debauchery—submitting, of course, to his love of drugs, alcohol, and women—Jones seeks to reinvent himself by striving to earn the coveted third star from the well-revered Michelin reviewers.
Less than 15 minutes into the film, the audience has already figured out the rest of Jones’ story. Lacking the much-needed elements of surprise that Wells should have peppered throughout the film, Burnt fails to deliver in shock value, as the viewers fully anticipate Jones attempting to “turn over a new leaf” by opening his own gourmet restaurant, meeting a strong-willed woman who is going to “turn his life around,” and setting out to embody other trite cliches that might also begin with the word “turn.”
Jones returns to Europe in search of his chef pals from the good ol’ days—a ragtag group of guys whose lives have been, for the most part, ruined in some way by Jones and his drug addiction. Despite the bad blood between Jones and his former friends, he somehow wins them over with grand plans of culinary glory. Oddly enough, the former addict easily coaxes his wealthy friend Tony into funding the entire ordeal—a feat that takes little to no effort on Jones’ part, save the trouble of plastering a smile across his handsome face and uttering a simple “please?”
Because every degenerate hero needs his headstrong damsel in distress, Jones’ recruits a promising but overly-proud Helene (played by Sienna Miller) to help at the restaurant. Helene, a single mom and well-seasoned sous chef, predictably falls victim to Jones’ sexy bad-boy-meets-good-chef charm despite her initial distrust of the haughty sweet-talker.
Apart from the film’s all-too-familiar storyline, the art production of Burnt is impeccable. Wells serves up an aesthetically pleasing product whose vibrant colors and dazzling cinematography attempts to hide an otherwise bland plot. The audience indulges in frequent montages of ingeniously choppy clips showing high-stress kitchen chaos. The swift movement of chefs weaving around each other to create the perfect dish is like a well-choreographed ballet, captivating the audience with each ingredient added and every order prepared.
In addition to being a visual treat, Burnt boasts a mostly refreshing and humorous script. With witty one-liners and snarky side comments from Cooper’s character, the movie’s sarcastic tone helps to significantly spice up the story. Despite the film’s one-dimensional characters, the casting was excellent—Cooper provided realistic tantrums of a troubled man when he had to, while Miller was a force of feminine power in an otherwise subservient role.
The several aspects of the film that made this movie sizzle, however, did very little to negate the disappointment of a poorly-executed plot. Leaving many loose ends and underdeveloped plot points, the film felt like an abridged version of a movie that was originally made to be much longer. The dialogue disappoints at times, especially when the characters keep mentioning the “drugs, alcohol, and women” Jones used to do—as if both the audience and Jones himself needed the constant reminder that the guy used to be a total badass.
Overall, it is difficult to digest such a horrifically hackneyed plot. It’s pretty much a re-imagined, realistic rendition of Pixar’s Ratatouille—that is, if the animated children’s classic replaced its cute CGI critters for more references to drugs and meaningless sex.
Due to Wells’ decision to make his protagonist a walking and talking, basting and chopping cliche, Burnt leaves an unpleasant aftertaste from a piece that—with a little more attention to detail—could have been much better prepared.
Simply stated, Burnt doesn’t have the raw, rare qualities of a good film that critics were craving; rather, it barely passes as well-done.
Warner Bros. Pictures