Judge Ben Saylor has plenty of reservations about mediocre film.
Someone's in the kitchen with Mrs. Michael Douglas!
Shine director Scott Hicks made his first film in over five years with 2007's No Reservations, a remake of the 2001 German film Mostly Martha. Set in a trendy New York restaurant amid succulent dishes, the film is a largely bland affair that represents a rather forgettable entry in the catalog of romantic comedies.
Facts of the Case
Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Entrapment) is the chef at 22 Bleecker, a swanky Greenwich Village eatery. Her kitchen is her life; that is, until an accident leaves her the guardian of her young niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine). Her carefully ordered existence is further upended when a free-spirited, Italian-trained sous chef named Nick (Aaron Eckhart, The Black Dahlia) joins the staff at 22 Bleecker. Can Kate balance the demands of her work with caring for Zoe, while also letting the charming Nick into her life?
It should come as no surprise that the answer to the preceding question is yes. What did you expect? No Reservations is a conventional, predictable romantic comedy/parenting story. Yes, the fact that much of the action unfolds in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant adds some zest to the proceedings, but all the artfully prepared dishes in the world can't hide this movie's by-the-numbers screenplay.
The biggest problem with Carol Fuchs' script is that it just feels lazy a lot of the time, particularly in developing the film's key relationships; i.e., Zoe and Kate, and Nick and Kate. When Zoe first comes to live with Kate, she won't eat anything Kate prepares for her. This is understandable at first; I can't imagine wanting to eat a fish with the head still on at her age. But she also turns down more kid-friendly fare in the fish sticks Kate prepares. Then, when Kate brings Zoe to the restaurant, Nick gets her to eat some spaghetti he leaves lying around, and all of a sudden—WHAM!—Zoe's out of her shell, and she and Kate are total BFF (minus the occasional obligatory hiccup or two).
Worse is the Nick and Kate relationship. It doesn't help that Eckhart and Zeta-Jones' chemistry is more of a simmer than a roaring flame, but still, Fuchs makes it awfully easy for these two very different people to get together. Sure, they don't hit it off right away, but before long, they're eating tiramisu in front of the fire, and after that they get their own montage of fun activities to do together (with Zoe in tow, of course) set to an annoying pop song.
The characterization of Kate could have used some work. As I said before, she not only becomes a great mother too easily, but she also falls for Nick too fast. Kate's supposed workaholic nature is ultimately worn down rather quickly. Fuchs throws in sessions with a therapist (played by Bob Balaban) in an attempt to flesh Kate out, but all we get is vague back story and cringe-inducing dialogue such as, "It's the recipes you create yourself that are the best." Ack!
Nick's characterization rankles me too. Nick is that freewheeling type, capable of melting the hardest of hearts, that has been in romantic comedies since forever. Don't take my word for it: Watch him walk around the kitchen of 22 Bleecker in his pajama bottoms, conducting an imaginary orchestra, crab in hand, as he listens to an opera on his CD player. Naturally, everyone in the kitchen but Kate thinks he's the cat's pajamas (bottoms), especially Zoe, because it should go without saying that Nick is great with kids. In short, he's the perfect man, with absolutely no discernible flaws. Did I mention that he wears pajama bottoms in the kitchen?
Even the conflict Fuchs throws into the last act to separate Nick and Kate feels half-hearted, especially when it's blatantly obvious that these two are going to have their happily ever after. Fuchs even gives us a "scare" involving Zoe, so desperate is she to ratchet up the third act tension. But nothing is as bad as the last scene, which is unforgivably corny.
Warner Bros. HD DVD of No Reservations (the flip side contains the SD version) has good, if not great audio and video. The images in the scenes of the restaurant itself (as opposed to the kitchen) seem too dark, but that might have something to do with how those scenes are shot. As for extras, both the HD and SD sides have a special episode of the Food Network's Unwrapped that is dedicated to the film. It's too much of a promo a lot of the time, and it shows the same clips over and over, but it still gives a nice behind-the-scenes look at how the film's two stars prepared for their roles. Exclusive to the HD side is an episode of Emeril Live, in which the famous chef has Eckhart and Breslin on the show to help him prepare recipes for the movie. Actually, all Eckhart and Breslin do is help make a couple pizzas and then sit back and watch Emeril do his thing. I'd never seen an episode Emeril Live before, but this was worth watching to learn more about the dishes featured in the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Catherine Zeta-Jones was a smart choice for the role of Kate; to me, it was very believable that she could be a driven top chef. Zeta-Jones had already displayed some comic flair in the Zorro films, and she makes it fun to watch Kate's initial exasperation with Nick. She also handles the serious scenes appropriately, especially a moment when, in the aftermath of her sister's death, she goes into the restaurant's freezer to cry. While Fuchs' script often fails the character, Zeta-Jones' portrayal doesn't.
The same goes for Eckhart and Breslin, who both turn in good performances. The charismatic Eckhart manages to make the clichéd Nick into someone worth watching, and Breslin is refreshingly non-annoying as young Zoe. Child characters in movies like this (and movies in general, really) are usually preternaturally mature and intelligent, but No Reservations allows Zoe to just be a kid.
Special mention should also be made of Brian F. O'Byrne (Bug), who plays Sean, a good-natured divorced dad neighbor of Kate's. When his character is first introduced, I got worried that the movie was going to throw in a love triangle between Nick, Kate, and Sean. Fuchs, however, is content to leave Sean as a helpful neighbor who, although clearly a little smitten with Kate, is smart enough to see what's happening with her and Nick and backs off.
In the realm of romantic comedies, you can certainly do worse than seeing No Reservations, but it goes without saying that you can do better too. With this film, pretty scenery, tantalizing-looking food, and game performances are compromised by a clichéd screenplay.
Guilty of not using an original story recipe, although Warner Home Video gets
a small gratuity for including relevant extras. Check, please!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Unwrapped: Host Marc Summers Visits the Set and Talks to the Film's Stars for an Episode of his Food Network Series"
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