A half-baked remake of the half-baked 2002 German film Mostly Martha, No Reservations is a cinematic culinary treat for those without a discerning palate. Thinly drawn characters laugh and pout and frown to blaring pop songs throughout Scott Hicks’s Americanized redo, in which anxious perfectionist Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a chef at Greenwich Village’s swank 22 Bleecker, is forced to reexamine her lonely workaholic existence after two momentous events: the death of her sister, which makes her custodian to adolescent niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin), and the hiring at her restaurant of sous chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart), an opera lover whose free spirit proves threatening to her neatly ordered professional life. Although Kate may be worried about Nick, no one else need worry about the procession of incidents and eventual outcome of this dreary little concoction, which holds fewer surprises than a box of Cracker Jacks. Uptight Kate struggles to find a comfort zone with Zoe, fumes at Nick before falling for him (even though his work ensemble includes pajama pants and Crocs), and mulls over underwritten daddy issues with her shrink (Bob Balaban). These and other conventional storylines play out in a posh Manhattan wonderland shot by Hicks in squishy-soft hues that accentuate Zeta-Jones’s slender, black-clad figure and amplify the choking preciousness of every Breslin line reading (“Men!” she exclaims in mock adult exasperation during one particularly egregious instance). “I wish there was a cookbook for life, with recipes telling us what to do,” says Kate, oblivious to the fact that her every action and word is predicated on an insufferably mundane and archaic romantic comedy formula, one that believes working women aren’t happy unless they’re saddled with a man and child (both of whom will preferably join them on a sunset bike ride for three). To even reference Ratatouille, the summer’s other food film, is to confuse the two efforts’ inherently divergent agendas, as Brad Bird’s triumph concerns itself with the magic of artistic inspiration and the joy of sensory delights, while Hick’s bowl of gruel uses kitchen creativity as mere pretext for Neanderthal meet-cute nonsense. Open wide, garbage can—or, rather, Blockbuster bargain bin—here No Reservations comes!
- Scott Hicks
- Carol Fuchs, Sandra Nettelbeck
- Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Jenny Wade, Bob Balaban
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