If there were any doubt that the restaurant world was trending, we offer up Le Chef. No, this is not a French take on Jon Favreau’s middling summer indie hit Chef, nor is it in any way related to recent big-ish box-office release The Hundred-Foot Journey. In fact, this little slice of big-screen food porn actually predates them both. Daniel Cohen’s 2012 submission into the world of munchy-inducing movie-theater fare begins with the mournful story of Jacky Bonnot (Michaël Youn), a middle-aged chef with great vision and a fighting spirit that keeps getting him booted out of the kitchen. Stuck between jobs with a baby on the way, Jacky takes up work as a painter at a sprawling estate, ends up eavesdropping on the kitchen staff, and quickly worms his way into their practice as a sort of unlikely guru from the streets. Shortly thereafter, Jacky gets brought inside to breathe new life into the establishment’s aging and uninspired celebrity chef, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno).
If this all sounds more than a little familiar, you’ve probably already made the connection between Le Chef and Disney’s stellar animated film Ratatouille, which Cohen liberally borrows from throughout this script. But irksome as the thievery seems at Le Chef’s start, it quickly takes a backseat to the bigger, more glaring problems herein. For starters, Youn’s Jacky spends the majority of the film wavering between slightly pathetic and thoroughly unlovable. Rather than humble himself when presented with the opportunity of a lifetime, he asserts himself in a way that seems both preposterous and utterly off-putting. By the time Legarde and Jacky finally figure out how they can help each other, it’s hard to really root for the pair. And when they go head-to-head with a hotshot molecular gastronomy guru, it quickly becomes a case of too many egos in the kitchen.
Perhaps all this petty drama and stovetop feather-ruffling could have worked if Le Chef took itself a little more seriously, but mixing all these complicated and troublesome characters into a script that reads as “lighthearted” and “vaguely comedic” just further confuses the thing. If variety is the spice of life, perhaps it’s time we ease off the foodie flicks for a bit.