Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a bad-boy chef trying to make good. You can tell he’s bad because of his six-pack abs, movie-star shades, and leather jacket—and because we’re forever being told about all the drugs, drinking, and women he used to do. As for the good part, he’s clean and sober as the movie opens, determined to take over the kitchen of a fancy hotel restaurant and win his third Michelin star. (I wonder if he’ll succeed?) But first he must round up his staff, recruiting a series of flattered and eager young men and one recalcitrant beauty, Helene (Sienna Miller).
Helene relents and joins him, of course, eventually becoming his partner in life as well as in the kitchen—but not until after the audience has been subjected to a plethora of food-porn montages, of golden globs of something or other getting ladled onto entrées and green sauce being drizzled artfully over white plates, some dramatic showdowns with Adam’s arch-rival, Reese (a sadly wasted Matthew Rhys), and a tiresome litany of cliché-ridden dialogue straining to be insightful, like when Adam informs us: “I sentenced myself to hard labor shucking oysters and turned in the last part of my penance.”
There are also a fair number of Significant Moments: Adam confessing to Helene that he needs her help to get his third star; Reese telling Adam that everyone in the city’s restaurant community needs him; and Helen informing Adam that we all need each other. And just in case you aren’t sensing a theme here, the “family meal” served to the staff in Adam’s restaurant becomes a thuddingly predictable and literal-minded metaphor.
Not even the love story provides much of a spark. The restaurant is owned by Tony (Daniel Brühl), a gay man who’s in love with Adam. We know this because we’re repeatedly told so, but all that exposition becomes moot when Adam finally plants a supposedly teasing kiss on Tony. The sexual chemistry in Cooper’s triumphant grin and the blushing Brühl’s barely repressed smile and disconcerted stammer puts Cooper’s strenuous lip locks with Miller to shame.
Adam’s quest for fame and greatness starts with a failed opening night, during which he serves food so passé it was cooked in a pan (shudder) and is snubbed by the fooderati, and is followed by a triumphant comeback, in which his brave new menu wows the obligatory celebrity critic (Uma Thurman). That pattern is echoed by his two-pronged run at the third Michelin star, his first attempt ending in ignominy and his second in triumph.
But the “real” story is Adam’s psychological rehabilitation. As everything in this by-the-numbers script signals, our hero must transform himself from an abusive tyrant in the kitchen and a loner at home to the head of a loving and fully functional family, in both his professional and his personal lives. Can he do it? The suspense (or something) is killing me.