Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a progressive and enterprising chef who throws his career away following his affliction for narcotics. Having self-imposed a rehabilitation sentence, to shuck one million oysters in a New Orleans cafe, he then decides it’s time to return to the big league, and so sets off to London to convince his former colleague Tony (Daniel Bruhl) to let him take over his dying restaurant – and earn himself a third Michelin star. Though taking a while to prove he’s not the volatile incendiary he once was, he assembles a group of resourceful cooks, including the likes of Michel (Omar Sy) and single mother Helene (Sienna Miller) – as he vies to compete with an old foe in Reece (Matthew Rhys) and open up the very best place to dine in the city.
Where this severely undercooked drama suffers more predominantly, is within the hackneyed, Steven Knight screenplay. Like a recipe without any ingredients, it’s so remarkably unsubtle, treating the audience as though we’ve no ability to work anything out ourselves. Such as when Cooper first encounters Sy’s Michel, for the latter to say, “I remember when I was your Sous-chef at Jean-Luc’s…” spelling out exactly how he fits into the story, despite the fact that in real life, when people know each other well they tend not to remind themselves how or why that is. Then in bringing up a former incident between them, he asks whether the chef remembers what he did, to which Cooper replies, “No I don’t, what did I do again?” only for a contrived explanation of their history to come to light. It may seem pedantic, but this one, short sequence is emblematic of everything that is underwhelming about this production.
The commitment to realism is rather devoid anyway, as Cooper manages to walk around central London, bumping into people he knows from previous jobs in other countries. I’ve lived in London for 27 years and can’t recall bumping in to anyone in Leicester Square. He’s been here five minutes… But the real crime is the lack of depth to the lead role. He’s always about where that next slick one-liner will come from, but we lose sight of the fact we’re dealing with an ex-addict in recovery. We never once get a true sense for that, and it’s so overtly cinematic and devoid entirely of nuance. Just your archetypal, “man seeks redemption after troubled past” narrative that could be picked up and placed in any other situation, the drug addiction is just a mere plot point.
It’s difficult to root for his cause too, especially as the entire narrative hinges on whether he gets his third Michelin star, and we don’t care either way. Firstly, we don’t really like him, which doesn’t help matters – and also, it’s not a rags to riches tale of the underdog. It’s an esteemed chef vying to be even more esteemed. Okay mate, good for you. That being said, the picture does get somewhat better, and when Cooper loses his shit in the kitchen for the first time we see a glimpse of the film we had wanted to see. It’s a gradual ascent, as while the opening act, the starter, if you will, is wildly disappointing, the main certainly picks up, and we end on a rather fulfilling, sweet desert. But on the basis of what we’ve just sat through, we’re not sticking around for a coffee.