The French have a long and noble history of being funny, especially on film. As well as the legendary Jacque Tati, there have been a number of modern comedy classics, such as ‘The Closet’ (‘Le placard’, 2001). However, as much as there are true gems, the sheer volume of comedies coming out of France these days mean that, more often than not, we get colour-by-number insipid crowd pleasers, whose idea of comedy is to be loud and French and that should be enough. So where does ‘Le Chef’ (‘Comme un chef’), the new culinary comedy from director Daniel Cohen, fit into the mix?
Jacky Bonnot (Michael Youn) dreams of becoming a chef. His passion for food and gifted skills in the kitchen, however, cannot overcome his pedantic perfectionism, and with his girlfriend with a baby on the way, he can’t afford to keep getting fired. A twist of fate introduces him to Alexander Lagarde (Jean Reno), France’s biggest celebrity chef who is in a predicament of his own - his highly traditional repertoire is being outshone by the new craze, molecular cuisine. Recognising Jacky’s skills, Alexander hires him as his unpaid assistant in an effort to save his restaurant, and in order to follow his dream, Jacky has to keep this all from his girlfriend.
LE CHEF - TRAILER
‘Le Chef’ is a film that clearly works on a different level of reality to our own. There is an almost cartoon quality to the film, a veneer and spit-and-polish that is all just a little too fake. Technically, Cohen does a pretty good job. The film is well shot, well edited and moves at a zippy pace. It is more the pity, then, that the script is so very predictable. Plot points can be spotted a mile off, and some characters seem to only appear just for the sake of a joke or a character twist. Within both Jacky and Alexander’s common predicaments are essentially sets of skits, little episodic situations that vaguely link together to form a story. The supporting cast is painfully obvious (Jacky’s buffoon chef mates are the stereotype of non-threatening idiots - an old man, a black man and an Asian), and there’s about as much depth to most of them as a paddling pool. Jean Reno is charming and enjoyable as Alexander, and lends a nice stability to the manic inconsistencies of the rest of the cast. Michaël Youn veers between goofily harmless and painfully annoying, working very much from the principle that "more is more, and then some more".
Plot points can be spotted a mile off, and some characters seem to only appear just for the sake of a joke or a character twist.
In fact, that principle characterises most of ‘Le Chef’. That isn’t to say that it isn’t funny - it has moments of real charm and some lovely little set pieces, but the film occasionally doesn’t know where to stop (a sequence where Alexander and Jacky spy on another restaurant as a Japanese mobster and his geisha veers far too close to racism for comfort), and can fall flat as a pancake. Perhaps the strangest things about ‘Le Chef’, though, is its striking similarity the Pixar film ‘Ratatouille’, another (infinitely better) film about a would-be chef discovering his talents. There are a few too many similar story beats, enough to make one suspicious.
In the end, ‘Le Chef’ is a relatively harmless comedy that won’t rock anyone’s boat and won’t change the world of comedy, but might provide a harmless hour and a half’s worth of entertainment. A great piece of filmmaking or a worthy successor to the memory of Tati, though, might be a bit of a stretch.