Credits: Directed by Daniel Cohen and starring Jean Reno, Santiago Segura, Salomé Stévenin, Julien Boisselier, Michaël Youn, Bun-hay Mean, Rebecca Miquel, Pierre Vernier, Geneviève Casile, Raphaëlle Agogué, Serge Larivière, Issa Doumbia, André Penvern, James Gerard and Henri Payet.
Synopsis: Jacky Bonnot (Michaél Youn) is 32 years old and a lover of haute cuisine. He is undeniably talented and he dreams of success managing a great restaurant, but he and his wife’s financial situation obliges him to accept odd jobs that he is not passionate about and thus, never able to keep. One day he runs into his idol, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), a famous multi-star chef whose comfortable situation is threatened by the holding group that owns his restaurants...
French foodie farce keeps things light.
Le Chef is French Farce 101.
Not quite the light-as-air soufflé it was aiming to be but sufficiently bouyant nevertheless, Daniel Cohen’s Le Chef is a wafer-thin French trifle that asks for no intellectual involvement and a healthy suspension of disbelief for its half-baked laughs to congeal.
One of Paris’ culinary greats, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), is about to fall upon hard times. The Michelin-starred chef is the target of a character-assassination by his own retired business partner’s son, Stanislaw (Julien Boisselier, a cartoonish villain so weedy he looks to have never been to a restaurant in his life). The penny-pinching yuppie initiates a plan to downgrade the quality of Lagarde’s ingredients and in so doing, rob the chef of that coveted three-star rating. The slip in quality will constitute a breach of his contract, enabling Stanislaw to sack him (which makes no sense, really, or at least represents a convoluted ‘cutting of one’s nose to spite one’s face’ moment, but let’s proceed).
Desperate after his staff abandons him, Lagarde hires part-time handyman and #1 fan Jacky (the wonderfully expressive Michaël Youn) as his new 2IC. To Lagarde’s surprise, Jacky is a kitchen visionary, creating his own masterpieces and making some of Lagarde’s classic dishes even better. But can they remain friends, keep Jacky’s pregnant wife (a stunning Raphaëlle Agogué) in the dark and fool France’s leading food critics while saving the restaurant in the process?
For much of the film’s short running time, Le Chef is French Farce 101. Cohen keeps it fast, colourful and just slightly exaggerated; even the hulking Reno gets in on the act, waving his arms and turning on his heels at a clip when the ‘script’ calls for it. The mousy Youn seems far more suited to the physical demands of this type of zippy comedy, but together they make a fun comedy pair and go a long way to ensuring the film is as enjoyable as it is.
That said, audiences may be divided when their adventures tip over into some spectacularly nutty territory. One scene, staged in a dimly-lit restaurant serving an ultra-trendy ‘molecular gastronomy’ menu the pair hope to steal, involves Reno posing as a Japanese ambassadorial official (in full ceremonial grab) and Jacky dressed as his heavily made-up wife. If you can put aside for one moment the use of racial stereotypes in humour (some at the preview screening could not, it must be said), it is an inspired and hilarious sequence. Had the rest of the film been so flagrantly wacky, Le Chef would have been a laugh-riot.
Which it isn’t, unfortunately. Instead, Cohen settles for some heartwarming tropes and not-very-believable flourishes to bring it all to a mildly amusing end in front of the Eiffel Tower, as if to needlessly remind us that, yes, you’ve been watching a French film. Like some of the rich delicacies Lagarde and Jacky conjure, Le Chef isn’t very nourishing, but a little indulgence in some sweet nothingness now and again isn’t a necessarily bad thing.
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