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5 reviews, 7 user ratings

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No Reservations
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Strange--I Actually Have Quite A Few"
2 stars

“No Reservations” isn’t so much a bad movie as it is a dead one. There isn’t a single element on display that you haven’t seen done at least a dozen times before and even those who rarely attend movies these days will be less than shocked by how it all plays out. Of course, predictability isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a film as long as it has been made with a certain amount of wit and style and performed by actors whose mere presence can lend a certain zip to the material. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here and the result is like one of those fancy frozen dinners that looks so tempting in the picture on the box but which turns out to be flavorless glop when you actually sink your teeth into it.

Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as Kate, the head chef of an ultra-posh and ultra-pricey Manhattan restaurant. A cold and impersonal perfectionist who has let every other aspect of her life come in second to her career ambitions, Kate is such an apparent disaster outside of the confines of her kitchen that her boss (Patricia Clarkson) has forced her to go into therapy and even then, she is such a domineering type that her hapless shrink (Bob Balaban) can hardly get a word in during their sessions. Before long, however, Kate is jarred out of her fashionable rut when her sister is killed in a car crash and she is suddenly thrust into the position of being the guardian of now-parentless niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Needless to say, this is not a role that Kate easily fits into–for Zoe’s first night in her new home, Kate serves her the kind of elegantly prepared gourmet fish dinner that holds virtually no appeal to any person whose age is still in the single digits. (Okay, I probably would have eaten it in a heartbeat, especially over the fish stick that Kate offers up the next night, but it has been said many times that I wasn’t exactly a normal child by any stretch of the imagination.) Kate’s attempts to maintain her life as it was before the arrival of Zoe become so deranged that when she is unable to find a decent sitter (the one that turns up is a heavily-pierced punk–exactly the kind of babysitter that you are likely to find working for an agency based in Manhattan–she starts taking the kid to work with her at night.

While adjusting to this sudden change in her personal life, Kate’s professional life goes into upheaval as well when she returns to the restaurant after taking a couple of days off and discovers that her boss has hired flamboyant new sous-chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart)–we can tell that he is a rebellious free spirit because he blasts music in the kitchen and has the kind of long, shaggy hair that you generally don’t want to see hanging from the head of your sous-chef unless it has been firmly secured underneath a hairnet. (And to think that just a few weeks ago, people were objecting to the idea of a film with a rat running rampant in a fancy restaurant.) Of course, Kate hates Nick at first sight–mostly because she is convinced that he is after her job–but Zoe turns out to adore him and eventually, even she begins to succumb to his carefree attitude (“He’s so unpredictable!”) and soon finds herself recreating the infamous food-filled sex scene from “9 ½ Weeks”–albeit without any of the sex. It all seems perfect for a while–I seem to recall an inspirational montage appearing at this point–so we can immediately sense that some development is about to occur that will break this happy trio apart before another development occurs that will bring them all back together again. I’m sorry–I guess I should have said “Spoiler Alert!”

If the plot sounds more than a little familiar to you, it may be because you happened to see either “Mostly Martha,” the popular 2001 German film that “No Reservations” is an official remake of, or “Raising Helen,” the 2004 Garry Marshall film that blatantly ripped off the premise of “Mostly Martha.” Then again, it may just be because this is another one of those movies where a frosty, career-driven type learns to Take Time To Smell The Roses and Live Life To The Fullest. Since there is absolutely no question about how this particular story is going to end, the success or failure of the entire film rests solely on the shoulders of the person cast as the Chef That Learns To Care. After all, if we don’t believe in this person as a cold-hearted cipher in the first half, a magically transformed paragon of humanity in the second or as someone who knows their way a high-pressure kitchen throughout, all that we in the audience are going to be left with is the story and this is not the kind of film in which you want everything riding on how the plot turns out.

By casting Catherine Zeta-Jones, an actress who has never exactly been renowned for exemplifying warmth and humanity in her previous screen appearances, the producers of the film essentially sabotaged the entire production before shooting even a single frame of footage. While I have liked Zeta-Jones’ work in some of her past films (I especially admired her performances in “Traffic” and one particular scene in “Entrapment”), her basic screen persona is cool and remote instead of warm and giving. This works well in the early scenes of the film (when Kate goes into the walk-in freezer to collect her thoughts, she seems strikingly at home) but when her character is supposed to thaw out and become a warmer and kinder person, Zeta-Jones isn’t able to convince us of this transformation for even a second. Even at the end of the film, long after the point where she has indeed Taken Time To Smell The Roses and is Living Life To The Fullest, she still gives off the kind of vibe that suggest that she may well dump Zoe into the nearest orphanage the minute she becomes too tiresome to deal with any further.

And if Zeta-Jones isn’t especially convincing as she is learning to enjoy life outside of her kitchen, neither she nor the rest of the film are particularly convincing inside of it as well. Oh sure, we hear the characters talk about the importance of preparing food but we never get any real sense that they are actually practicing what they preach–the actors seem to be working under the presumption that if they dip a spoon into a pot of something or other, that is all they need to do to create the effect of being master cooks. Under normal circumstances, I might not have noticed this particular aspect at all or minded it too much if I had. However, I saw “No Reservations” a couple of weeks after seeing “Ratatouille” and I couldn’t help but notice that the delirious excitement of creation that the animated film conveyed in spades is virtually nowhere to be seen in what is theoretically supposed to be the more adult-oriented film. If films like “Ratatouille” or “Big Night” are authentic food porn in the way that they convey the tactile delights that can be had by someone in the kitchen with ideas on the brain and ingredients at hand, “No Reservations” is the cut-down version that appears on Cinemax–the kind that offers up plenty of glossy surface elements but which lacks the gritty details that make you feel as if you are watching the real thing unfolding before your eyes.

Beyond these significant flaws, there is nothing especially wrong with “No Reservations”–the other performances are serviceable, director Scott Hicks keeps things moving along and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh gives the entire enterprise the kind of slick, glossy look that makes it look like the pages of “Martha Stewart’s Living”come to life. For the most part, however, the film comes across as the cinematic equivalent of the Olive Garden–it offers up a simulacrum of a film aimed at audiences with no working interest in giant robots or young wizards but who are afraid of straying too far outside of their comfort zone to sample anything truly unique. Such a movie meal may be satisfying for some people but those who enjoy trying new and unusual dishes, such as “Mostly Martha,” “No Reservations” will doubtlessly prove to be difficult to swallow and harder to digest.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16400&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/27/07 00:00:00
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User Comments

10/08/17 Jamie Review spot on-Patricia Clarkson s/haved starred, jones/eckhart miscast,empty,emotionless 2 stars
1/15/09 Shaun Wallner Great story! 3 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. enjoyable but nothing memorable. :P 3 stars
3/17/08 Shelley Smith Pedestrian at best. Watch the original film. 2 stars
3/01/08 Nanci Torres this was okay, you can wait for the dvd 3 stars
7/30/07 Chris Cama Cathren is georgous but since we all know shes married it didnt seem to attract me. the mov 2 stars
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  27-Jul-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2008

  31-Aug-2007 (PG)


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