The food looks fresh and gorgeous in Burnt, a parade of sous-vide and sauces that will send audiences into the streets ravenous.
It’s the rest of the movie that feels stale.
Director John Wells (August: Osage County, the fantastic Company Men) goes behind the swinging kitchen door to explore the competitive world of high-end cooking but, unlike his chefs, doesn’t come to the table with anything surprising or eye-opening.
Bradley Cooper is Adam Jones, a two-star Michelin chef who didn’t just burn bridges at his Paris restaurant, he blew them up with nuclear devices. Drug-addicted, womanizing and cruel, he left behind a string of enemies and bad debts before fleeing to New Orleans, where he anonymously shucked oysters in a neighborhood dive and got clean.
As the movie starts, Jones wants his reputation back — as well as a third Michelin star — and has moved to London to get it.
He approaches a former associate, Tony (Daniel Bruhl), who’s running his father’s restaurant into the ground, about taking over the spot. Tony, who at first is not happy Adam is back and possibly bringing anarchy into his staid life, reluctantly agrees. But there is one condition: Adam has to have regular drug tests and counseling from Dr. Rosshilde (Emma Thompson).
Now Adam has to get his team together, and that includes a few friends from his old days — jailbird Max (Riccardo Scamarcio) and failed restaurateur Michel (Omar Sy) — as well as some new faces, including nice-guy David (Sam Keeley) and single-mom Helene (Sienna Miller), who, from the start, is clearly going to be heating up more than a few pots and pans in Adam’s life.
Of course, under pressure in the kitchen, Adam falls back into his old bullying ways, turning into a Frankenstein combo of Gordon Ramsay, pre-CNN Anthony Bourdain and the music teacher from Whiplash. Curses and plates are hurled with equal ferocity.
Also unhappy is a crosstown rival, Reece (Matthew Rhys), who also knew Adam in his firebrand days and doesn’t welcome the competition. And then those pesky Parisian drug dealers still want their money.
Cooper brings a rough-hewn energy and swagger to the role, and most of the supporting cast is solid as well, though Uma Thurman as a restaurant critic and Alicia Vikander as an old flame don’t have much to do. That’s a shame, because Vikander is one of the best of today’s young actresses.
Everyone is hampered by the generally predictable script from Steven Knight (who penned last year’s amazing Locke) about a bad boy having trouble growing up. A secondary plot involving Tony is something that might have been thought of as edgy in the ’80s but just seems tired now.
There are inspired moments, as when Adam and Helene are locked in concentration perfecting a dish, and the passage of time is signified by their co-workers saying “good morning, chef” and “good night, chef.” Wells does manage to capture the high heat and the kitchen cacophony that outsiders imagine takes place before the plate is set in front of them.
Still, while Burnt may not be sent back, it’s doubtful many will want seconds.
Director: John Wells
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl
Rated: R (strong language)
Running time: 100 min.