Friday, November 13, 2015

BURNT (2015)

Written by Steven Knight

Directed by John Wells

Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA.  November 2, 2015  9:45PM

"Burnt", an under cooked romantic drama, features the swoon-worthy Bradley Cooper as an American two-star chef that became a superstar in Paris before squandering his talent in a haze of booze, drugs and women. Now clean and sober, he's seeking redemption and forgiveness while attempting to rebuild his career and reputation. Director John Wells, best known for his fine work on television with "ER", "The West Wing" and "Shameless" and for the feature, "August: Osage County", is more than capable of getting amazing work from his performers and shaping together a compelling story. Yet he's unable to put these ingredients together here in a satisfying way, leaving "Burnt" flat and indigestible.

Having served a self-imposed penance in New Orleans for his past sins, Adam Jones (Cooper) is ready to begin again. Broke but still able to charm, Jones checks in to the swanky hotel in London managed by Tony (Daniel Brühl), a former associate. Skeptical of his old friend's claims of cleaning up his act, he's completely floored when Jones suggests they open a new restaurant together. Although trust has to be earned, because of Jones' amazing gift in the kitchen, eventually Tony is willing to overlook his destructive behavior of the past and take another chance. He's not the only one. Omar Sy plays another friend burned by Jones but willing to work by his side in this new venture.

And where does the romance come in? That's in the form of Sienna Miller, re-teaming with her "American Sniper" co-star, as a single mother quite content working as a sous chef in Tony's restaurant at the hotel. Initially unaffected by the brutish charisma of Adam Jones yet finds herself forcibly drawn in to his kitchen and inescapably in to his arms. Cooper and Miller still have a nice chemistry which helps yet not enough to make this unlikely couple coming together believable.

The goal of acquiring a third Michelin star for his new fine dining establishment will be an uphill climb for Jones. His kitchen staff has not yet developed the proper rhythm required. The successful restaurant of a rival cook (Matthew Rhys) from his past lights a fire under Jones while some dealers that tracked him down and owed a substantial sum of money are ready set him on fire. And as the pressure build, the demons that unraveled Jones previously threaten to resurface.

With the countless cooking programs on the air, the atmosphere of intense pressure and controlled chaos that goes on behind the scenes is no longer a mystery. We now expect the wild and burning passion that goes on in a restaurant's kitchen however you won't find much to crave in this pedestrian script by Steven Knight. What is served up, at best, is lukewarm melodrama. If you expect to see fascinatingly complex characters, you would do better to tune in to any episode of "Top Chef".

Mr. Cooper, all scruff and sexy swagger, is quite appealing as the arrogant bad boy. While the actor impresses with skillfully performing like a professional chef,  this material doesn't give him much else to work with. This forces Cooper to coast mostly on his physical attributes though we know he's able to do much more like his Oscar-nominated work in "Silver Linings Playbook", "American Hustle" and the aforementioned "American Sniper".

The most criminal offense about "Burnt" is how it completely wastes the talents of some great actresses. Not only are their appearances far too brief but they're not given much to do. This includes Lily James of "Downton Abbey" and the star of Disney's live-action hit, "Cinderella", Uma Thurman as a lesbian food critic that somehow couldn't resist Adam's sexual charms, this year's It girl, Alicia Vikander as Adam's former lover and most tragic of all; the wonderful Oscar-winner, Emma Thompson resigned to playing a dowdy psychoanalyst assigned to drawing blood to be sure our chef is not using and keep check on his mental state.

If you are looking to simply savior in the joy of Bradley Cooper and his piercing blue eyes, then "Burnt" will certainly satisfy your appetite. However, if you want a drama with a little more meat on it's bones, then you might want to skip this course.