You know how you go to a good restaurant, find yourself immersed in the meal, and then, over-wined and over-dined, the dessert menu arrives? You order. You eat. You wish you hadn't.
Chef is kind of like that. A foodie's dream - replete with mouthwatering shopping/chopping/filleting/sautéing montages (squab! fennel!) - the movie doesn't know when to let up. And so, while Jon Favreau's bouncy paean to the culinary arts wins you over in a stridently upbeat, crowd-pleasing way, you wish the writer/director/leading man (making his return to boutique fare after two Iron Mans and an Elf) would try a bit of nouvelle cuisine: Cut back on the portions, and definitely cut back on the ham.
Favreau is Carl Casper, an up-from-obscurity cook who presides over a popular dining spot on Los Angeles' tony west side. Scarlett Johansson, sporting Bettie Page bangs and star tattoos, is the maitre d'; Dustin Hoffman, the restaurant's owner. When they hear that the town's biggest food critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt - brother of New York magazine food crit Adam Platt), is paying a call, everybody gets nervous. Hoffman's Riva insists the chef "should play your hits." Carl wants to do a new, more cutting-edge menu.
Things get testy. And things get really testy after Michel posts a review that takes Chef Casper to task - gleefully. Carl, new to this social media thing, dashes off what he thinks is a private tweet to Michel. It isn't private at all, and suddenly the feud between chef and critic has gone viral. The Twitterverse is abuzz, atweet, a-something.
Speaking of Twitter, one of the more annoying things about Chef is the blatant branding: Twitter isn't just a plot device, it's a costar. Every time a character takes out a cell to tap a message, that little blue bird wings its way across the screen, literally.
Favreau's Carl has other problems, too: Divorced from his wife (Sofia Vergara), he hasn't been the dad he should be to his son, Percy (the preteen Emjay Anthony). So, in the fallout from the review, Carl and Percy take a trip to Miami, acquire a rusty old food truck, rehab it, and drive it across the states - stopping in New Orleans, in Austin - to serve Cubanos to die for. Chef is about rediscovering your calling, getting back to what you love. Burp.
John Leguizamo, Carl's old line cook, tags along, and everybody's doing their part, grinning and grilling and rocking to "A Message to You Rudy," Perico Hernandez, and some very cool brass bands.
They also never stop tweeting.