Screened Out – Burnt

By : Stephen Miller
Comments: 0

Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman

There is a whole collection of movies that can be classified as “food porn.” The best among these flicks is Babette’s Feast and Big Night. However, even Ratatouille, last year’s Chef, and the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be good examples. Foodies watch them not only for the obsession with everything gustatory; there is also a visual style to the dishes, one that – when filmed well, can cause hunger pangs.

Though the food is always gorgeous, as a movie, Burnt falls somewhere in the likeable but flawed category. This story about a bad-boy chef looking for redemption feels like tasty but reheated leftovers. At one point the chefs say the food in the flick is good but unsurprising; they could’ve been talking about this film. They say the menu rests too much on classic style. So does this plot.

Cooper is a hotshot, jerk-wad chef who once famously crashed and burned in Paris. A combination of overwork, hard living, drugs, and alcohol were partially to blame. His terrible personality was also a factor. After getting clean and doing penance as an unknown prep chef in New Orleans, Cooper flies back to Europe – London specifically. He wants to rebuild his brand name, create a new restaurant, and get a third Michelin star. It’s that star that drives him – good relationships and human decency be damned.

Emma Thompson is pointless garnish in her small role.

Emma Thompson is pointless garnish in her small role.

The hard living and terrible interpersonal seems pretty accurate; Cooper’s turn to sobriety hasn’t dulled his crappy edge or his self-destructiveness. Anyone who’s watched Gordon Ramsey (he’s one of the producers, and his restaurant is one of the settings) knows chefs can be assholes. Other chefs show a tendency to addiction and obsession. One bets executive producer Mario Batali and other famous cooks who were consulted lent a sense of veracity to Burnt. In fact, the dialogue and subtext are lovely and honest; they assume a level of intelligence in the audience.

That being said, there had to be a more interesting, surprising story to tell here. From a script standpoint, this meal plods along exactly as one would expect it would, about as intriguing as tuna casserole.

It’s not that Cooper isn’t committed to his role as enfant terrible. He’s been interested in food entertainment ever since he got his start in Kitchen Confidential, with a selfish character a lot like the one he plays here. The rest of the cast ably creates the communication, dysfunction, and politics of the restaurant business.

Instead of adding surprising ingredients, though, Burnt offers a tired, old work romance (Miller). It also garnishes its bland dish with a bitchy food critic (an underutilized Thurman) and a psychotherapist (a shamefully wasted Thompson).

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The insight into restaurant business is pretty interesting if you’ve never seen a documentary or watched another movie or TV show about it yet. The food is lovely, and Burnt doesn’t play snob here – showing fancy haute cuisine and food truck offerings with the same love.

It’s that half-baked, warmed over story, though. If you’re a foodie, maybe you’ll feel Burnt. If you like your cinema a little more meaty and unusual, this movie will leave you burnt.

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