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Le Chef | Review

Chef Mate: Cohen’s Poke at the Restaurant World Written for Fast Food Mentality

Le ChefConnoisseurs of world food porn will perhaps take keen interest in the Gallic trifle, Le Chef, a 2012 title finally unfurling stateside this summer. So wan and frothy with its generic little plot, even fans of Jean Reno will be slightly disappointed at the saccharine ambivalence evident in every aspect. Hardly as sophisticated as other recently released French food fare, like Catherine Frot headlined Haute Cuisine, or even similarly themed American titles like Jon Favreau’s Chef, director Daniel Cohen would seem inspired by a growing universal trend in the appeal of food themes, even though it technically was written and filmed before these. While it’s certainly not a terrible endeavor to experience (to its credit, the film is certainly better than Roger Gaul’s Tasting Menu) Cohen seems perfectly fine with resting in the gutter of floundering cliché, and thus, the film is nearly instantly forgettable.

A down on his luck self-taught chef, Jacky (Michaël Youn) can’t seem to hold down a job in his chosen profession, consistently mistaking his audience wherever he’s lucky enough to stumble into a job. But with his pregnant girlfriend due to give birth in a short amount of time, he’s forced to take a job as a painter in a nursing home. Meanwhile, celebrity chef Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno) is in danger of losing his reputation as a three star, top tier chef, and his restaurant is in danger of being taken over by someone else thanks to the new CEO (Julien Boisselier) of the group that owns his establishment. A chance meeting between the rising and falling talents, and voila! A star is born—but is the complimentary dynamic enough to give them both what they need?

Let the foodie quips begin in reference to the lackluster entrée that is Le Chef, a dish in much need of some kind of extra flavoring, even just a little salt. Every single beat seems lifted directly from an ear tattered manual of formulas. It’s the tired old tale of the stuffy old codger enlivened by a new genius in his arena, both learning life lessons about how to maintain a balance between family life and professional dreams. Reno’s hangdog Lagarde isn’t very realistically presented, his character growth culminating in ditching a grand unveiling of a macrobiotic menu to attend his neglected daughter’s thesis of Balzac, which he dumbfoundingly interrupts anyway. As the up and comer, Michaël Youn fares a little bit better, resembling a youthful looking Steve Martin in a role not terribly unlike the happy fool from The Jerk.

Supporting players are so lazily spackled in that inflatable dolls would have been equally serviceable. As Jacky’s pregnant wife, Raphaëlle Agogué has to be one of cinema’s most coiffed postnatal mother’s, not a make-up smudge or a hair out of place on the birthing bed, as nonchalant as if she’d shucked a bucket of corn. Despite one inspired oddball scene featuring Reno and Youn disguised as a Japanese couple in Kabuki inspired regalia, Le Chef is a withered dribble of a tale, and you’ll leave the theater hungry for something of substance that’s necessarily food.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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