Show Good Taste and Don't Eat Here
Whatever we feel for the romantic leads, the love with which exotic, erotic meals are prepared has to make our mouths water. We must savor the dishes and the romance they engender.
That's not a problem in "No Reservations," a time-killer of a remake of a winning 2001 German comedy, "Mostly Martha." The food -- wondrous creations built around tilefish, truffles, lamb and foie gras, finished off with perfectly caramelized crème brûlée -- make this one of those comedies that sends you out for an after-cinema snack.
But even though "Reservations" may pass foodie muster in Food Network Nation, no amount of hollandaise sauce can kick up this oxygen-starved comedy built around a poker-faced turn by the lead, Catherine Zeta-Jones. She takes a stab at making this crusty super chef a riveting presence at the heart of this movie meal. And she fails.
Kate, her character, is a temperamental chef at tony 22 Bleecker restaurant in Greenwich Village. But she's living a life out of balance. That's why the owner (Patricia Clarkson, given nothing to play) has sent Kate to a shrink (Bob Balaban, cast a bit too on the nose).
Kate can lose herself in reveries over food. It's people and men she has troubles with. Kate presides over the quietest star kitchen in New York (foodies know kitchens aren't this calm and quiet) and daintily rebuffs the advances of a charming neighbor. She is boring, something Catherine Zeta-Jones should never play.
Then the cook is forced to take custody of her sister's child, played with little spirit by "Little Miss Sunshine" herself, Abigail Breslin. Kate can dazzle diners all over the Big Apple. But she can't get the little girl to eat, not even fish sticks.
Thank heavens for Aaron Eckhart, that mop-topped charmer with the perma-stubble. He waltzes in as a sous chef hired to fill in. Eckhart gets to play vibrant, happy-go-lucky yin to Kate's steely yang. He cons the kid into eating (spaghetti, naturally) and breathes life into Kate, 22 Bleecker and this morose, overdesigned movie.
Nick's specialty is Italian cuisine, and he has broadened that into an entire life philosophy. He sings opera, badly. He cooks and lives with brio. He really rubs Kate the wrong way, even as he tries to get through to her.
"It's OK to let people in sometimes," he says, stating the obvious.
And you can guess the rest.
They've sucked a lot of the life out of "Mostly Martha," which won't be that much of a bother to the never-reads-subtitles set, who didn't see the German original. What will strike pretty much any moviegoer is how sterile this feels. The movie waltzes from too-perfect restaurant to stunningly designed shrink's office to Kate's showplace apartment. None of it looks lived in. Too little of what we see there could pass for life, either.
Scott Hicks, who made the earthy "Shine," was more intent on giving us a fall-in-New-York travelogue than a movie with spark. Even the weepie stuff is drained of emotion. For a romantic comedy, this is sorely lacking in witty banter. The travelogue, the food and Eckhart help the time pass. It's the blandness of the characters, the staleness of the settings and Zeta-Jones' struggle with reserve that hobbles "No Reservations."
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