Are moviegoers burned out on foodie cinema? Bradley Cooper and the makers of "Burnt" sure hope not, even though their film follows last year's "Chef" and "The Hundred-Foot Journey."
If nothing else, viewers may be persuaded to try another helping of the genre simply because of the talent involved here — not just Cooper, but director John Wells ("August: Osage County"), co-writer Steven Knight ("Locke"), and an interesting ensemble that includes Cooper's "American Sniper" wife, Sienna Miller. But the movie has a problematic penchant for extremes, first asking us to appreciate its subject's off-putting artistic perfectionism, then to root for his clichéd redemption. It's a variation on "Chef," but also on the twisted spirit of "Whiplash," in a way, only with haute cuisine, mainstream gloss, and a conveniently tidy wrap-up.
As the story opens, Adam Jones (Cooper) is thanklessly shucking away in a New Orleans oyster bar, doing self-described penance for his hurtful, drug-fueled flameout as a celebrated chef in Paris. Deciding he's served his time, he grabs his biker jacket and aviator shades and lands in London, where he coolly maneuvers to reclaim his culinary star. Actually, make that three stars, for the coveted Michelin rating he's obsessed with winning.
Adam waltzes in on estranged friend and connected maître d' Tony (Daniel Brühl, "Rush"), and brazenly tells him he's taking over his posh hotel restaurant — a rock-star move that Tony accommodates, for reasons that are intriguingly set up but simplistically resolved. Time now for Adam to gather what he grandiosely envisions as his Seven Samurai of the kitchen, including talented, feisty single mom Helene (Miller), and Michel (Omar Sy), yet another of the old pals he wronged in Paris. Just about the only ones not summarily bending to the resurgent chef's will are his employer-mandated therapist (bit player Emma Thompson), and successful rival Reece (Matthew Rhys), stagily but aptly characterized as the Salieri to his Mozart.
Cooper swaggers as convincingly as always, the food-prep montages are mesmerizing, and we even get a couple of solid twists and an education on the sous-vide trend. But the filmmakers also have a wrongheaded expectation that we'll be endlessly fascinated by this abusive jerk's china-trashing Gordon Ramsay tirades and eventual, too-easy mea culpa. Sorry, not to our taste.
Directed by John Wells. Written by Steven Knight and Michael Kalesniko. Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 100 minutes. R (language).
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.