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by Peter Sobczynski

"American Sniper II: Out Of The Fire, Into The Frying Pan"
1 stars

"Burnt" tells the story of a self-aggrandizing man with a hair-trigger temper and monstrous ego who fancies himself as a master of his particular craft and who is gifted enough to attract a number of equally impressive talents to work under him even after he continually blows up at them for not living up to his exacting standards. This flagrantly obnoxious behavior is inexplicably forgiven by many who are willing to look the other way because of his alleged passion for his work, a perspective that he also manages to maintain by cultivating the press when necessary. In other words, it probably should not come as a surprise to many observers to learn that thhe film is being distributed by the Weinstein Company. What is surprising is that they would think that any audiences would be willing to spend $12 and 100 minutes in the company of someone that they would cross several city blocks to avoid if they encountered him in real life.

The film stars Bradley Cooper as Adam, a hotshot chef who shot to stardom in the kitchen of one of Paris' finest restaurants until the combination of drug abuse, girl chasing and his monstrous ego led to a spectacular flameout three years ago. Having fulfilled his self-imposed penance of shucking a million oysters in a New Orleans dive (he even accounts for every single bivalve in a tiny notebook), he hightails it to London intent on regaining his status as a master chef and, more importantly, earning a coveted three star rating from the venerated Michelin guide. To do this requires him to somehow convince the very same people he betrayed or abused back in the day and while that seems like an unlikely bet at best, it is only a matter of time before his old maitre'd, Tony (Daniel Bruhl), hands over complete control of his family's swank restaurant and old buddies like Michel (Omar Sy) and Max (Riccardo Scamarcio) agree to return to their old posts in the kitchen.

Some fresh blood is required, however, and Adam quickly sets his sights on Helena (Sienna Miller), a chef de partie slaving away in a lesser restaurant who does not seem to recognize how talented she really is. She is, however, astute enough to recognize Adam's excruciatingly douchey manner and refuses to work for him--no, not even after his embarrassing monologue inside of a Burger King where he tries to convince her that their fare is not that different from the classic French peasant dishes of old. When that faux-homey hooey fails to resonate, he does the only thing that a guy with his overwhelming powers of persuasion can do--he gets her fired from her current job so that she is forced to sign with him in order to support her and her adorable moppet of a daughter. Not surprisingly, the road to that third star is not as easy as it seems and whenever there is a hiccup along the way--the machinations of a grumpy rival (Matthew Rhys), a misstep in the kitchen, a middling review--he flies into abusive rages that find him hurling crockery and grabbing Helena as if he is going to deck her. However, with the help of a therapist (Emma Thompson), the comfort of Helene and the realization that there is more to cooking that awards and crowded dining rooms, everything pretty much works out for Adam in the end.

During one of Adam's jerk-ass tirades early on, he derides the efforts of those cooking under him and declaims "If it's not perfect, you throw it away." Clearly no one involved with "Burnt" felt the same way or it would be opening in ashcans this weekend instead of the multiplex. The screenplay by Steven Knight is a shamelessly shallow bit of navel-gazing psychobabble that never quite understands what makes his central character tick or why anyone of the others would continue to give him the time of day despite his multiple instances of bad behavior. When he rages, the venom doesn't seem to come from some dark personal place but from the knowledge that all the guys on the lamer cooking shows scream a lot in an effort to earn viewers who want to see the latest rants from the fodant-flinging freak. When the others continue to make excuses for him, it seems less like they can see the decent man and artistic genius behind the apron and more they know that if they do leave, there is no movie.

Then again, maybe Knight is not entirely to blame because while watching "Burnt," which had a long gestation period that once had no less a figure than David Fincher signed to direct, one gets the distinct sense that large chunks of material was either rewritten incessantly during the extended development process or chopped out entirely. Consider that there are several characters--chief among them Uma Thurman as a lesbian food critic (who nevertheless once succumbed to Adam's dubious charms) who helps put the story in motion and Alicia Vikander as a woman from Adam's dark past who turns up unexpectedly at a key point--who turn up for maybe a scene or two, only to disappear. Consider that other plot threads (such as the stuff involving drug dealers that Adam owes money to or a member of Adam's staff with an unrequited crush on him) are handled so perfunctorily that you wonder why they bothered to leave them in. Consider that for all that we hear about Adam's terrible flame-out in Paris three years earlier, we never quite learn what it was that exactly happened back then. Consider that when all is said and done, the story is never resolved in a particularly satisfactory way--no one seems to have really learned anything in the end, except maybe to still be wary of any film toplining Bradley Cooper that does not include David O.Russell's name on the credits.

Perhaps director John Wells (a long way away from David Fincher, to put it mildly) hoped to divert viewer attention from the threadbare and derivative nature of the screenplay by making them swoon with all the moments of elaborate meal preparations that are to this film what car chases were to the Hal Needham oeuvre. Alas, the endless shots of various liquids being ladled onto small chunks of food on display here are not much to speak of--this is the Cinemax equivalent of food porn--and since we don't have any real knowledge or appreciation of what is being served or how it was prepared, they do not have nearly the impact that they were presumably meant to have. Perhaps we were meant to be so blown away by the raw charisma of Bradley Cooper that we would be willing to forgive all of his lapses. That doesn't quite work out either because all of the smug tendencies that he was able to either tamp down completely or correctly channel in such films as "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle" have come roaring back and this is easily his most insufferable performance in a long time. And if we were meant to be swayed by the romantic chemistry between Cooper and Sienna Miller, who co-starred in "American Sniper," that doesn't pay off either because they strike zero sparks this time around, never less so than during the moments when they have theoretically put their antagonism aside at last.

Because "Burnt" deals with the restaurant world and because it is a rotten movie, there is the strong temptation to end this review with some sort of food-based witticism. I could claim that it is indigestible or half-baked, for example, or that if it were a meal, it should have been sent back. And yet, the movie is so cliched and exhausted that even those lame witticisms would seem fresh and vibrant by comparison. Instead, I would simply like to reiterate that this is a dreadfully boring film about a dreadfully uninteresting boor and that if you want to see a movie that is about a perfectionist in the kitchen that is smart and entertaining and actually shows a genuine interest in what goes on in a kitchen--complete with any number of mouth-watering visuals--you should give this one a wide berth and just watch "Big Night" again.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28788&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/29/15 18:47:03
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  DVD: 26-Jan-2016


  DVD: 26-Jan-2016

Directed by
  John Wells

Written by
  Steven Knight

  Bradley Cooper
  Sienna Miller
  Uma Thurman
  Emma Thompson
  Jamie Dornan
  Alicia Vikander

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