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Review

Burnt

By DAN LYBARGER Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published October 30, 2015 at 1:45 a.m.

in-john-wells-burnt-adam-jones-bradley-cooper-a-top-chef-who-threw-it-all-away-on-booze-and-drugs-attempts-to-make-a-comeback-by-starting-a-new-restaurant-in-london

In John Wells’ Burnt, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a top chef who threw it all away on booze and drugs, attempts to make a comeback by starting a new restaurant in London.

Burnt

78 Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Riccardo Scamarcio, Omar Sy, Sam Keeley, Henry Goodman, Matthew Rhys, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander

Director: John Wells

Rating: R, for language throughout

Running time: 100 minutes

Burnt made me feel sorry for stars Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Alicia Vikander and the other attractive actors who populate the film. It must be humiliating to be consistently upstaged by food.

That's a danger for any seriously intended film set in the world of haute cuisine. Director John Wells (August: Osage County) knows he doesn't have a movie if the dishes onscreen don't resemble the culinary equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. Wells consulted with American uber-chef Mario Batali, and cinematographer Adriano Goldman earns a special place in hell for lovingly photographing breathtakingly beautiful dishes that most movie theater patrons could never afford to eat.

Curiously, the people making this cuisine aren't nearly as interesting as what's on the stoves or the plates. Despite having a script penned by Steven Knight, the screenwriter behind such gripping films as Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and Locke, Burnt feels warmed over.

Cooper stars as Adam Jones, an American chef who conquered the Paris food critics and almost destroyed himself with every illicit chemical imaginable. After two years on the wagon, he shows up in London wanting to start a new eatery in the hopes of winning an honor that had previously eluded him, a three-star rating from the Michelin Guide.

Only about 190 such places have that honor, and establishing a London restaurant would be a major coup given the reputation of British cuisine. It has been said that in European heaven, the cops are British, the engineers are German, the administrators are Swiss, the lovers are Italian and the chefs are French. Meanwhile, in European hell, the cops are German, the engineers are Italian, the administrators are French, the lovers are Swiss and the chefs are British.

Adam may be sober, but he's no nicer than he was before he kicked his bad habits. He sweet-talks the son (Daniel Bruhl) of a financier he has crossed into opening the new establishment, and he recruits others he has betrayed before and after his sobriety to work with him.

We can't eat his dishes in a theater, so there's no way to know if Adam really is as gifted as he is obnoxious. Despite being played by the charismatic and talented Cooper, Adam is little more than a narcissistic oaf in a uniform.

Knight's by-the-recipe storyline is bereft of suspense, and it's disheartening that the mind who created such indelible characters in Locke can't do the same thing here. In the previous film, only Tom Hardy's title character appeared onscreen, so that was a formidable achievement. It's almost as if Knight started slacking off because he didn't have to develop characters who can be heard on a speaker phone in a car but not be seen.

Despite having some notable performers in the supporting cast, the underlings in Adam's kitchen are indistinguishable from one another. Adam berates and seduces anyone who comes into his orbit but develops no discernible chemistry with any other human being. Yes, like many people who excel at what they do, Adam is obsessive and rude, but the rivalries and romances are nothing but the dropping of fictional names.

Characters discuss how they've been wooed and abandoned by him, but it would be infinitely more entertaining if we could see Adam's manipulations instead of hearing about them secondhand. Cooper and Miller played well off of each other in American Sniper, but here she's reduced to being little more than a flesh-and-blood appliance.

The more the people in Burnt jabber, the longer the wait between beautifully prepared dishes becomes. Perhaps it would have been more gratifying to have Goldman photograph Batali at work.

MovieStyle on 10/30/2015

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