Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout
Directed by: John Wells
Written by: Steven Knight
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson & Lily James
The Weinstein Company (notorious Oscar whores that they are) flaunted BURNT as a potential awards season offering before reviews were even in. Despite the heavy pre-release hype (opening in select theaters before expanding onto screens nationwide), showcasing many talented performers, and following a screenplay by Steven Knight (who recently impressed with LOCKE), BURNT is a half-baked melodrama that tastes a bit bland (pardon the obvious cooking puns). The film may be technically well-made (shot on location in London and using an almost Kubrickian shooting style) with a number of strong performances, but it crumbles under the weight of cheesy clichés and a generically by-the-numbers plot.
Meet Adam Jones. He’s a former chef turned coked-up bad boy turned professional chef again. After running a pristine French restaurant into the ground, Adam Jones sentences himself to three years of shucking oysters before returning to London in hopes of adding a third Michelin star to his reputation. This is easier said than done as Adam finds himself beset by many obstacles. One of which is securing a venue, then there’s the process of employing a talented staff who are willing to follow his lead and tolerate his fiery temper. Finally, he must concoct a menu that equates the level of a culinary orgasm. Adam will face his demons, open himself up to others, and accept his faults…or fail horribly in the process.
The best thing in BURNT is front and center on its poster: Bradley Cooper. Cooper has proven himself as a performer who can make even the most menial of characters into someone interesting. The role of culinary bad boy Adam Jones is no different. Adam Jones commands the screen with an authority that echoes of a young Gordon Ramsay, someone who clearly served as a real-life inspiration for this protagonist. Bradley Cooper’s performance is easily the best thing to be found in this film…well, that and lots of plates of gorgeous food. There are many shots of delicious looking dishes that will make your stomach growl. It’s probably not the best idea to watch this movie when you’re hungry.
The supporting cast members don’t necessarily pale in comparison to Cooper’s dominating presence though as we get Sienna Miller as a frustrated mother/cook who also doubles as a potential love-interest for Cooper. As Cooper’s former friend turned co-worker, Daniel Bruhl is totally enjoyable and is doing his damndest to bring believable emotion to his scenes. Special mention should also be made towards Matthew Rhys as a rival three-star chef who adds more flavor into the mix. The chemistry between Cooper’s and Rhys’s characters is genuinely fun to watch as they both hate each other in an almost friendly way. Also on the sidelines are: Omar Sy (as a former enemy turned co-chef), Alicia Vikander (as a familiar face from Adam’s past), and Emma Thompson (as Adam’s frequently glimpsed therapist).
The performances are definitely not the problem in BURNT. Instead the film’s big flaws primarily stem from a weak script. There’s plenty of interesting drama to be found in real-life kitchens. Just stick on any one of Gordon Ramsay’s reality shows and you’re bound to be hooked for at least one episode. Some of that drama and suspense translates into the plot as Adam desperately tries to earn a third star to his name and strives for constant perfection (a goal that doesn’t seem realistic). It would be nice if the script didn’t sweep Adam’s mistakes under the rug with haphazard explanations, vague exposition-filled conversations, and silly coincidences. After all, it seems like the film’s overall message is to face one’s demons and accept ourselves as imperfect creatures. The screenplay frequently undermines itself with frequent predictable plot developments and unbelievable clichés (to go into specifics would be delving into spoiler territory). BURNT’s script isn’t up to the level of its performances and that’s a noticeable (often distracting) problem.
You can pretty much guess where BURNT is heading from the moment it starts and there’s nothing to keep the viewer hooked other than strong acting and food that will make you wish that you were eating instead of watching this film. Though the cast is great (especially the performances from Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, and Matthew Rhys), they can only do so much with a script that frequently drags its feet and doesn’t reward the viewer for sticking through it. BURNT’s title is rather ironic, because the film is disappointingly undercooked.