By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Jon Favreau wanted to do something a little different.
So he cooked up Chef. Don't show up hungry.
Favreau -– who wrote, produced, directed and stars in Chef as the title character -– first broke through to the moviegoing public by writing Swingers, writing and directing Made, and acting opposite buddy Vince Vaughn in both.
Then he moved behind the scenes and into major studio projects, directing Elf, Zathura: A Space Adventure, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Cowboys & Aliens.
Some were well-received by critics, some -– particularly that last entry -- were not.
And so, back to the cutting board...
Chef is a culinary comedy in which Favreau plays Carl Casper, the high-profile, accomplished, workaholic but creatively frustrated Miami-born title character, who loses his upscale restaurant job as the executive chef when a temper tantrum of his is recorded and goes viral.
Instead of taking a job at another restaurant, and because he wants so desperately to continue expressing himself rather than doing someone else's bidding, he starts up a refurbished food truck, calling it "El Jefe Cubanos" (The Cuban Chief), in the hopes of making and selling Cuban sandwiches as a way out of his creative rut and back to his epicurean roots.
And just as he rediscovers his original professional motivations, he also tries to redeem himself as a father.
Needless to say (so, ahem, I'll say it), any resemblance between the road literally traveled by the Favreau-enacted protagonist and the parallel metaphoric journey director Favreau has just embarked upon by moving from studio projects to a more personal mode of moviemaking is anything but coincidental.
In his declaration of independence, Favreau also manages to include a bit of graceful commentary on the way social media, for better or for worse, have intruded upon and changed modern life.
But the central message of this labor-of-love project is clear: find your food truck in life. Well, Chef is Favreau's food truck. For now.
To help him cleanse both his palate and his palette, and despite a very modest budget, Favreau has rounded up quite a cast, with Dustin Hoffman as his demanding boss, Sofía Vergara as his ex-wife, Scarlett Johansson as a fetching hostess, John Leguizamo as his sous chef, Bobby Cannavale as his replacement, Robert Downey Jr. as his ex's ex, Oliver Platt as an influential restaurant critic, Amy Sedaris as a public relations pro, and Emjay Anthony as his tech-savvy, ten-year-old son.
Favreau turns in an appealingly easygoing performance –- probably a career best -- and his father-son chemistry with young Anthony, a natural who stays with him every step of the way, is winning without tugging too vigorously on the heartstrings.
While doing justice to his film's title by showing plenty of scrumptious-looking food preparation and consumption –- and thus making the convincing case that this guy really is an extraordinary cook -- Favreau adopts a leisurely pace, sometimes to a fault, especially when the road trip to Miami and Austin and New Orleans becomes the focus.
So it must be said that his film is slightly undercooked. Not the food, the film. But only slightly.
So we'll broil 3 stars out of 4 for the mouthwatering rekindle-your-passion comedy, Chef. Just about anybody will find it tasty, but foodies should eat it up.
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