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Movie Review: ‘Le Chef’ offers a meager menu of laughs

Too many cooks?  Michael Youn and Jean Reno in
Too many cooks? Michael Youn and Jean Reno in "Le Chef."

Le Chef
★★

It’s meant to be a soufflé-light charmer, but this bland, predictable French comedy basically falls flat.

Written and directed by Daniel Cohen, better known here as an actor (in films like the 2010 comedy “Kill Me Please”), “Le Chef” actually has two chefs on the menu.

Jean Reno, better known for heavier fare such as “The Professional” and “The Da Vinci Code,” plays culinary superstar Alexander Lagarde, who crosses paths with Jacky Bonnot (Michael Youn), a genius in the kitchen whose life is otherwise a disaster.

The uncompromising Jacky has been fired from four cooking jobs in four weeks after trying a little too hard to shove fine dining down the throats of his customers. (Don’t let this guy find out you’ve ordered red wine with his veal.) To please his pregnant girlfriend (Raphaelle Agogué), he has taken a job painting windows at a retirement home, but he can’t resist butting in when he sees the cooks in the kitchen boiling salmon, or some similar outrage. And that’s where he happens to be discovered by his longtime hero Alexandre.

Alexandre has problems of his own, coping with his weasely philistine financial backer Stanislas (Julien Boisselier), who wants him to set dump classic cuisine and change with the times — namely, by embracing molecular gastronomy. (“No! Not that!” Alexandre says with a shudder.) Stanislas will fire him if his three-star restaurant is downgraded by trend-conscious critics in an upcoming review, so Alexander offers Jacky an unpaid trial as his assistant — a once-in-a-lifetime chance Jacky has to hide from his now kitchen-phobic girlfriend.

Reno and Youn do their best to produce laughs from odd-couple conflicts between control-freak Alexandre and authority-flouting Jacky, but the characters’ mutual artistic admiration undermines the tension.

Cohen is more successful taking shots at molecular cuisine, trotting out dishes such as phosphorescent radish mousse, virtual calamari and strawberry éclair in a test tube. But he pushes his luck too far with some uninspired silliness involving Reno and Youn dressing as a Japanese diplomat and his wife to spy on the dishes offered in the ultra-modern, molecular-themed restaurant of a competitor.

Worse, there are some just-plain-lazy continuity gaffes in the story (first the retirement-home residents reject Jacky’s cooking, then they suddenly refuse to eat anything else) as the two chefs strive to save their restaurant while reassessing the importance of the women in their lives. In the end, it all goes down with about as much flavor as pre-processed fast food.

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