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NO RESERVATIONS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson
Director:  Scott Hicks
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  “Unwrapped” Featurette
Length:  104 Minutes
Release Date:  February 12, 2008

“Life is unpredictable.”

“Not in MY kitchen.”

Film **

I still don’t understand the psyche of the American film system sometimes in how it always seems to believe it can take a terrific foreign film and do it better.  Mostly Martha, from Germany, was one of the best romantic comedies I’d seen in some time.  The remake, No Reservations, seems quite a bit underdone by comparison.

Some of it was so close to the original, it made me consider that maybe movie magic has something more to do than what actually gets captured on film.  Maybe it exists in the spaces between frames.  But quirks in Sandra Nettlebeck’s original screenplay that felt like naturally eccentric extensions of the characters lose their subtlety and effectiveness here, like too much of a good spice.

It focuses on Kate (Zeta-Jones), a top chef in a top restaurant whose life revolves around her kitchen.  She is both the boon and the burden to her boss (Clarkson), who knows Kate is the best at what she does, but frequently has embarrassments caused by Kate’s inability to take occasional criticism from customers.  Kate is sent to therapy, but she’d rather talk about recipes than her problems.

Enter two disruptive factors in her life: the first is when her sister tragically dies, leaving behind her little niece Zoe (Breslin).  It was her sister’s wish that Kate take care of Zoe if anything happened to her.  The second is the arrival of a new sous chef Nick (Eckhart), a free spirit who blasts opera in the kitchen and cooks Italian.

Now, Kate’s perfectly ordered world is shaken up, and the careful control she always exercised over her own life becomes tested.  Not only does she have to deal with being a mother, but she no longer has the sanctuary of her kitchen to retreat to.

Even had I not seen Mostly Martha, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the story, which follows the formulas to a tee.  Kate reacts with uncertainty to Zoe, but eventually learns to embrace her.  She hates Nick, but learns to like him, and eventually, have a romance with him.  It ain’t exactly Iron Chef movie making.

My main issue is that the characters, which once seemed so rich and real, are reduced to the bare minimum, and then that minimum has the heat applied so that whatever’s left is bubbling over.  There’s very little real emotion involved here, apart from what the terrific young Ms. Breslin brings to the stew.  Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart are capable actors, but almost seem to be going through an acting exercise than crafting real and genuine scenes together.  They’re an attractive pair, but a shallow one as well.

Scott Hicks, the sure hand behind such solid movies as Shine, Hearts in Atlantis and Snow Falling on Cedars, does nothing for his reputation by agreeing to helm this film.  It can only be seen as yet another study as to why Hollywood can’t arrogantly swoop in like a hawk, seize a small prey, and turn it into a satisfying meal for Americans.  It takes more than big named stars and someone else’s proven screenplay to do it.  Some recipes aren’t meant to be tampered with.

Video ***

You have a choice of anamorphic widescreen or pan & scan presentations, and of course, I’d suggest the widescreen mainly for the shots of Kate’s kitchen in action.  Colors are solid and natural throughout, with just a touch of softness here and there, but still generally good detail.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio works well for a romantic comedy, and like the film itself, mostly comes alive in the kitchen, where there is plenty of activity and ambience to get your system involved.  The score by Philip Glass is decent as well.

Features ½*

The only extra is a behind-the-scenes look hosted by Marc Summers.

Summary:

Sorry, Kate, but this is one film I have to send back to the kitchen.  When I ordered Mostly Martha, No Reservations wasn’t what I had in mind.  Sometimes you just have to admit that another chef has perfected a recipe, and there’s no sense feeding your ego trying to improve upon it.

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