No Reservations

Something’s cooking this summer, but it’s not “No Reservations.” Okay, Scott Hicks‘ remake of the delightful German drama “Mostly Martha” is not a total disaster, but it faces a common predicament: it fails to encapsulate the wonderful flair of the original film. Instead, the filmmakers merely followed the insipid Hollywood recipe of how not to remake a foreign movie: they hired high-profile actors, duplicated the plot and threw out everything that either sounded too sophisticated or wouldn’t fit into American culture.

Based on the original screenplay by Sandra Nettelbeck, “No Reservations” introduces us to Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a top New York chef who devotes her entire life to cooking, generally avoids men, and wastes most of her free time in therapy because her boss (played by Patricia Clarkson) thinks she’s constantly intimidating her work colleagues.

But when her sister tragically dies in a car accident, Kate faces too many life changes at once. Not only does she become the legal guardian of her stubborn nine-year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin), but she must also learn to cope with her growing rivalry against her new sous-chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart), a skilled eccentric who’s passionate about Italian food and Pavarotti.

Rather than relying on the excellent ingredients that made “Mostly Martha” such a delicious movie, Scott Hicks and screenwriter Carol Fuchs decided to go along with their own recipe. Truth be told, the result is mostly undercooked and predictable. “No Reservations” lacks the unexpected depth and subtlety of the original, and makes the annoying mistake of starting to approach certain subjects without ever elaborating on them.

Unlike the trailer might have suggested, “No Reservations” is not a romantic comedy, despite a desperate attempt by the filmmakers to generate a minor romance between Kate and Nick. No, the movie rather spends an awful lot of time establishing a sort of family drama between Zoe and Kate. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but sadly enough, the filmmakers ruin the whole setup with an incredible shallow conclusion. That’s right, all we get to take home from this movie is the fact that it’s our own recipes that are best. Duh!

The biggest problem in this movie, however, is the obvious lack of chemistry between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. Whereas Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellitto shared an unbelievable magic in “Mostly Martha,” Zeta-Jones and Eckhart simply don’t connect. We see that Kate tries hard to show emotions, but she simply doesn’t try hard enough. Nick, on the other hand, tries too much, and consequently never comes across as credible when he imitates Pavarotti or fakes Italian articulations.

As I mentioned before, “No Reservations” is not a complete mess. Director Scott Hicks is a dab hand at creating sentimental films (he did it marvelously in “Hearts in Atlantis”), and therefore, the film also comprises a handful of touching sequences, mostly involving the phenomenal Abigail Breslin, the star of “Little Miss Sunshine.” It is unfortunate though that these sequences are rare and barely fit into the ensemble movie. What could have been a tasty comedy turns out to be a rather raw remake. Well then…bon appétit.

Review by Franck Tabouring