Manhattan master chef Kate (Zeta-Jones) has no life outside her kitchen kingdom. When she becomes guardian of her orphan niece (Breslin), she struggles to relate to the child, while dynamic new sous chef Nick (Eckhart) threatens to usurp her domain. Is this a recipe for love?
However many food programmes there are on television, too many cinematic culinary-themed disasters since the mouth-watering hits Like Water For Chocolate and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman suggest there is no great appetite for another film about food and love. And still they tempt us with beautiful people slinging skillets and repartee.
This confection is a remake of the German comedy Mostly Martha, but it’s seasoned more heavily as a romantic drama, losing some charm and subtle flavour in the Americanisation.
While one finds oneself wondering if Zeta-Jones has ever boiled water, she seems perfectly at home bossing staff, intently applying artistic drizzles of sauce or accosting a customer rash enough to send a dish back with a sharp implement. At the eatery, she presents a plausibly pernickety chef, so tightly wound she’s made to see a therapist (Bob Balaban). All she can bring herself to confide to him is recipes. It’s one in her eye, then, when her dead sister’s grieving child refuses to eat.
This is where her polar opposite, extrovert new employee Nick proves his worth, breaking off from slicing-and-dicing duties to envelop the little girl and stubborn woman in the warmth of his big, happy personality and pasta sauce. In the original, this character was Italian, but the decidedly not Mediterranean Eckhart is determinedly presented as an opera-singing, spaghetti-twirling vino-quaffer anyway. He does it with gusto, but the necessary explanation for his tastes is absurd, even by Hollywood standards.
Eckhart is so perfect, in fact, that you keep waiting for the ladle to drop, but it never does. He’s adorable, and that’s it. Even when he blindfolds Kate for a taste test, anyone drooling for 9 1/2 Weeks-like developments is in for disappointment.
Incredulity really strikes when Zeta-Jones is supposedly being spontaneous and freewheeling. Woman and child capering in their jammies having a pillow fight or frolicking on the floor scoffing pizza look as staged as an M&S commercial. Little Miss Breslin is the one you would credit with a truthful performance. She and the kitchen underlings, real restaurant workers employed to give authenticity to the food preparation and cries of, “Yes, chef!”
Its sufficiently well done to qualify as cute, quite the thing for a girlie outing with grub after, but its utterly phoney baloney.