6.5 out of 10
Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones
Directed by John Wells
Master chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) arrives in London after cleaning up his act with the sole intention of earning a third Michelin star. Having made a lot of enemies including the drugdealers he owes money to, he must work with a ragtag group of old colleagues and new cooks to try to turn his long-time friend Tony’s restaurant around.
Over the last decade or so, there’s been a growing number of movies that take place in the world of celebrity chefs and the high-end restaurant business, probably due to the growing number of foodies obsessed with the Food Channel (this writer included). Burnt, which once had the equally bad titles of “Adam Jones” and simply “Chef,” tries to appeal to that same crowd with a character piece about one such individual who is trying to make a comeback.
Cooper’s Jones is a chef who has allowed his fame and celebrity go to his head, leading to alcoholism and drug use, which ultimately turned many of his friends and colleagues against him. After cleaning up his act, Jones arrives in London trying to start anew, turning to a long-time associate, hotel and restaurant manager Tony (Daniel Brühl), to help him give him a home while he gets back on his feet, knowing full well that Tony has other reasons why he would help Adam.
After putting together a menu and a new crew, including his old colleague Michel (Omar Sy) who still holds a grudge from Adam’s behavior, Jones tries to launch his new restaurant, but once kitchen service starts, he basically turns into Gordon Ramsay, throwing dishes and berating his staff. By that point, we haven’t given much reason to like Adam Jones and Cooper doesn’t really do much to make the viewer care much for the character, which is a shame because this is essentially another star vehicle for him.
At least Sienna Miller does a great job carrying Cooper as she did in American Sniper, playing a single mom but a talented chef that Adam enlists to help create his Michelin-starred eatery. Their scenes together are the best moments Burnt has to offer, while working hard to avoid the typical meet-cute romance you might be expecting at first. The similarly great Emma Thompson does well as Jones’ therapist trying to help him get back on track.
On the other hand, Uma Thurman is one of the many actresses amongst the cast who is wasted in the nothing role of a food critic who Adam uses to convince Tony to let him take over the kitchen and then disappears, but there are other actresses who are equally wasted including Lily James, who has one scene as a cook’s girlfriend, and even this year’s “It Girl” Alicia Vikander basically has two scenes as the daughter of Adam’s mentor. All these actors deserve better than these inconsequential roles that do little to enhance the story.
Possibly the biggest problem Burnt suffers from is that it’s being sold as a comedy without even being remotely funny, which is sure to leave any audience disappointed, since there are very few actual laughs other than Matthew Rhys as Jones’ arch-rival Reece, who becomes increasingly more upset as Jones achieves success. And yet, it’s also not a drama because there aren’t that many conflicts that go unresolved for long. It’s basically a movie that motors along with very few tonal fluctuations.
You have to give director John Wells some credit for creating such a slick-looking film and bringing genuine authenticity to every aspect of the film in terms of the cooking techniques, the kitchen politics and the relationships within, but movies like Jon Favreau’s Chef have done it better, so it just makes Burnt feel dated and behind the curve.
The movie generally gets better as it goes along as you become more invested in Jones’ success, but it’s also a movie that tries too hard to give redemption to a character who never does anything to earn it.
The Bottom Line:
There are enough decent moments in Burnt to eventually make it enjoyable despite the bland storytelling and Cooper’s equally lazy portrayal of the lead character, which makes it hard to get into it for a good hour or more.
Burnt opens nationwide on Friday, October 30.