No Reservations (2007)

(On DVD, May 2011) A number of Hollywood cookie-cutter romantic films work on two levels: First, the plot engine is based on tried-and-true formula, with few surprises to offer.  Then there’s the wrapping in which the story takes place, which can focus on just about any area of human endeavour.  So it is that No Reservations is far more interesting when it describes the world of restaurant chefs and the personality quirks that come with a certain kind of hard-driven cooking professional than in the familiar story it’s trying to tell.  The dramatic and romantic entanglements are routine, but the glossy look behind the scenes of a kitchen is interesting, and the film doesn’t skimp on the small scenes that aim straight for the foodie audience.  Which is just as well, because a lot of the film’s plotting is made of short narrative loops suddenly resolved (whenever it remembers to advance the plot forward rather than show some fine cooking).  The main romantic conflict is late in coming and is over before we even realise it exists.  But for those who like food, No Reservations isn’t without interest: pure Hollywood gloss can serve some purpose when it’s focused on something delicious.  At least the actors do well: As a quasi-neurotic French cuisine perfectionist, Catherine Zeta-Jones is playing a somewhat different character than usual in one of her rare 2005-2011 roles, while Aaron Eckhart is pure charm as a quasi-slacker Italian cuisine chef.  It doesn’t amount to much of a movie, but it’s pleasant enough as a Hollywood take on the romance of cooking.  The DVD’s sole special feature is a TV special on the film that contains interesting material, but repeats itself often enough to grate and distract from the content.

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