Much of what we see in “Burnt” confirms the 21st century, made-FROM-television stereotypes about rock-star chefs and their colorful, sometimes rebellious supporting kitchen players.
The chefs are immensely talented, manic-obsessive, insanely competitive artists who berate, belittle and abuse the free spirits, gifted newcomers and loyal veterans on their staff, all in the name of becoming the Next New Legend.
As for the diners: Well, they probably won’t even appreciate the genius that goes into their meals, but they’re a necessary element to the equation.
This makes for a number of entertaining “reality” shows, though I’ve always found it ludicrous when some red-faced Brit or tantrum-throwing American loses it over an overcooked piece of fish or a friggin’ cupcake that went sideways.
As an often cliché-riddled tale of redemption on the big screen, “Burnt” is the equivalent of a sleek, well-lit, trendy restaurant serving up a mildly creative dishes on an otherwise predictable menu. (OK, also predictable: critics unable to resist food metaphors in their reviews of “Burnt.” Guilty as charged.)
Bradley Cooper, locked into genuine movie-star status, loads up on the star-crossed charisma as Adam Jones, a once-in-a-generation chef who soared to superstardom in Paris — only to crash and burn under the weight of his wretched excesses, included but not limited to alcoholism, addiction to multiple drugs and sex, and the destruction of his relationship with the daughter of his beloved mentor.
A decade later, Adam is sober, broke — and fiercely determined to make a comeback in a London kitchen, all the way to obtaining a coveted three-star rating from the Michelin Red Guide, the hallowed Bible of European hotels and restaurants.
As a young cook who idolizes Adam explains it to his girlfriend: A rating of one star is good, the equivalent of Luke Skywalker. Two stars is “the guy played by Alec Guinness.” (Sidebar: Wouldn’t a hipster millennial chef-in-training be more likely to know the name of Obi-Wan Kenobi than Sir Alec Guinness?) Three stars, well, that’s Yoda.
OK, we get it, three stars is the stuff. And of course Adam’s pursuit of three stars is just the symbol of Adam’s pursuit of redemption. Still, as far as actual stakes go, any number of movies about cops, absentee dads, poker players, boxers, teachers or even animated talking animals trying to mount a comeback provide more of a visceral investment than the tale of a ruggedly handsome jerko chef obsessing over a three-star rating in a fancy guidebook. Just sayin’.
With one exception I won’t reveal, just about everyone in “Burnt” loves Adam — or comes to love Adam. When his staffers say, “Yes chef!” they do it with more reverence than knights saying “your grace” on “Game of Thrones.”
You think Sienna Miller’s single-mom sous chef will be able to resist Adam’s rugged sexuality, even after he physically manhandles her and forces her to work on her little girl’s birthday? Please. (Cooper and Miller, who were solid in their few scenes together in “American Sniper,” are terrific together here as well.)
Uma Thurman has a cameo as a food critic who tells Adam she can’t understand why she slept with him, given she’s a lesbian. (He’s magically sexual! Or is it sexually magical!)
Emma Thompson is a Poppins-like therapist who wears sneakers and doles out maternal care to that irresistible rascal Adam. (“I’ll put on a kettle,” she says with a warm smile when he shows up bloodied and bruised on her doorstep.)
Daniel Bruhl plays Adam’s old friend Tony, a gay maître d’ whose father owns the hotel where Adam opens a new restaurant. Tony uses his all-access card key to enter Adam’s room, snoop about, sniff his shirt — and then carefully fold it back into place. Easy there, Tony.
(SPOILER ALERT: A few scenes after Tony confesses his love for Adam and Adam gently lets him down, Adam celebrates good news by rewarding Tony with a kiss on the mouth — and Tony is flush with gratitude. It’s an insulting scene that would have seemed condescending even 25 years ago.)
The esteemed veteran John Wells, best known for writing and producing top-notch TV fare such as “ER,” “The West Wing” and “Shameless,” directs “Burnt” with smooth flair. London looks great, the kitchen scenes are well choreographed, the close-ups of succulent dishes are enough to make you sprint for the nearest restaurant once the movie is over.
But that’s the thing. You could leave halfway through the story and get an early dinner and, save for the details, you’d pretty much know how it all works out with the movie.
Sorry Adam. You’re not getting that third star here.
The Weinstein Co. presents a film directed by John Wells and written by Steven Knight. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for language throughout). Opens Friday at local theaters.