'Burnt,' with Bradley Cooper doing Bourdain (again), is basic, which is fine
Bradley Cooper plays an Anthony Bourdain-esque chef out for a comeback in "Burnt," which is less like a fine dish than a simple mac-and-cheese.
Director: John Wells
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
3 (out of 5) Globes
“Burnt” is simple, obvious, even lazy…but it has food. The camera pushes in close on fish frying in pans, on seasoning being daintily sprinkled over choice cuts, on the clatter-clatter-clatter of wooden spoons banging around inside a pot over dancing flames. Pricey dishes are lovingly consumed, followed by shots of eaters closing their eyes in ecstasy. If you’re into food — which is to say you like staring at edibles you can’t eat on screens as much as you like actually consuming them — then the food porn genre, like the submarine movie or films noirs or the films of Cary Grant, is one whose wares always get at least a pass.
Good thing too, because “Burnt” is more familiar than usual. Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, once a superstar chef destroyed by ego and drugs, now seeking one of those nice movie redemptions. He’s a lot like Anthony Bourdain. In fact he’s so like Bourdain the actor has already been him: post-“Wedding Crashers” but pre-superstardrom, he played “Jack Bourdain” (nice one) on the shortlived TV show “Kitchen Confidential.” Adam isn’t Bourdain-fun, though. As he rebuilds in London, installing himself in a new kitchen and seeking that always elusive third Michelin star, he all-caps shouts and throws pans and sweats spinal fluid when handsome dishes aren’t next-level. He upbraids no-nonsense sous-chef Helene (Sienna Miller) by saying, “You lack arrogance” and betrays his towering artistry by saying things like “Consistency is death.”
It’s not even worth pointing out that “Burnt” is consistently predictable — basically comfort food, only with a soupcon of grit. Director John Wells (“August: Osage County”) shoots in handheld and talented writer Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises,” “Locke”) doesn’t ease up on the expletives and antisocial tirades. Knight also sometimes writes painfully simplistic fare like “Closed Circuit,” “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and “Pawn Sacrifice” — titles where you see his esteemed name in the end credits and are surprised it's there. “Burnt” is one of those. Adam is unpleasant but mostly charming-unpleasant, and he’s guaranteed a happy ending, soon after a wine-soaked backslide that arrives right on cue. Even Miller’s Helene — likably temperamental, with cool tats and a young son, who repeatedly rebuffs his job offers and advances — will eventually give in.
Maybe that’s for the best. Predictability can be soothing, especially in an era when certain types of viewers demand that cliches be avoided, traditional genres be transcended, that all movies create the genuinely new. Occasionally succumbing to something basic like “Burnt” can be rewarding, even though it tries to rough things up with swearing and bad behavior and a charming but sometimes self-serious lead acting his heart out. It seems to think it’s a radical new twist on risotto. In truth it’s closer to a slightly spiced-up mac-and-cheese.