Thursday, July 26, 2007

"No Reservations" -- * * 1/2

As unremarkable as it might be, “No Reservations” certainly isn’t deserving of the bitter hatred it’s garnered from some too-cool-for-school publications (*cough* Time Out New York *cough*). Sure, it’s rote, predictable, melodramatic and more pleasant than actually good, but it’s still more entertaining than it really has a right to be. In other words, I was never really laughing out loud or thoroughly charmed, but I went with its cute, pleasant vibes and never felt particularly irritated or manipulated. I know, glowing recommendation, right?

For those not in the romantic-comedy know, “No Reservations” is a remake of the German charmer (yes, such a thing exists) “Mostly Martha.” The movie’s central figure is Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones, or as she’s known in my house, CZJ), a bitchy head chef at a five-star restaurant on Bleecker Street in New York. The film follows what happens when she’s forced to deal with a new chef at her restaurant (Aaron Eckhart), and to take care of her niece (Abigail Breslin) after her sister dies in a car crash. Needless to say, she falls in love with Eckhart and taking care of her niece turns her into a better, nicer person, yada, yada, yada.

I really don’t know who thought of pairing CZJ and Eckhart, two Hollywood figures known for their exuding of coldness and eliticism, in a romantic comedy together, but it plays about as well as it sounds. What’s next, Natasha Richardson and Denis Leary? (Hey, I tried, you think of a better one.)

I’ve always been a fan of Eckhart but I had trouble buying him as a sweet, doormat romantic lead who functions purely to make the leading lady happy. He does a fine enough job, but an actor as good as him shouldn’t be playing someone this one-dimensional. Hopefully he’ll have more to chew on as Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.”

Zeta-Jones isn’t bad per se, she just can’t really shake her public persona (i.e.: a shrew, cold, rich bitch). She fares much better in scenes where she’s a temperamental cunt than ones where she’s asked to be warm and loving. Amazingly enough, the best performance in “NR” comes from no other than Little Miss Sunshine herself, Breslin.

“No Reservations” is surprisingly well-directed, and that’s due to Academy Award nominated director Scott Hicks (“Shine”) slumming here. He keeps things moving along at a fast enough clip, frames some interesting shots, and everything looks great, but no direction can overcome some of the lines of dialogue we’re given here. If you liked the tagline on the poster (“Life isn’t always made to order”) than you’ll LOVE the movie, since there’s food metaphors galore. The most shudder-inducing ones I can recall were “The best recipes are the ones you make yourself” and “I wish there was a cookbook for life.” A seasoned pro like Bob Balaban deserves accolades for not cringing through every take of the former. Still, to be fair, I have to point out that for the most part, the screenplay avoids eye-rollers like these and even produced a few smiles (if not laughs) from yours truly.

I know it’s a cliché comment to make about a movie about food, but if “No Reservations” does anything, it will make you hungry. I hadn’t had dinner yet at the time of the screening on Monday and matter of the stomach certainly weren’t helped. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that though the movie is credited with an original score by Philip Glass, I could have sworn the music was identical to Mark Isham’s “Life as House” score.

Either way, I’m not complaining; it’s a cute, happy, pleasant score. And unless you’re a hater, that’s exactly what “No Reservations” is: a cute, happy, pleasant enough movie. And hey, what are matinees for?


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