“Burnt” is a cinematic grease fire, a food movie that starts sour and quickly turns rancid.
Bradley Cooper – his eyes the comic crystal blue of a contact-lens ad – plays angry-at-the-world chef Adam Jones, who lost his two-Michelin-star Paris restaurant in a haze of substance abuse-fueled misbehavior. After a self-imposed penance shucking a million oysters at a New Orleans eatery, he comes to London to chase the Holy Grail: a third Michelin star.
He sets his aim on Helene (Sienna Miller), the sous-chef of a former colleague who still has a soft spot for him. How does Jones procure her services? After his pitch to her goes nowhere, he has his friend fire her. In desperate need of money, with a young daughter she’s raising alone, Helene has no option but to come work for him. Her first day on the job, during yet another bizarre plate-throwing shit hissy, he grabs her by the blouse with both fists and shakes her, an incident that in the real world would rightly end his comeback before it began. Here, she puts up token resistance but agrees to stay on – at six times the salary. (What planet are we on?) Needless to say, they soon become love interests, requiring this talented actress, so impressive opposite Cooper in “American Sniper,” to spend most of the rest of the movie gazing up at him adoringly. Director John Wells’ presumption that we will as easily throw in with this lout proves ill-judged.
Steven Knight’s script is full of Razzie-worthy betrayals. He introduces a character named Reece (Matthew Rhys), another two-star chef and equally egotistical prick whom Adam views as his nemesis. Late in the movie, after some toughs have roughed up Jones for failing to repay a large drug debt, Reece cleans him up and is forced to deliver a howler of a speech: “You’re better than I am. The rest of us need you to show us the way.” Line after line that this person would sooner die than utter in real life. Then there is Tony (Daniel Bruhl), Jones’ once-and-again maître d’, who is gay and has nursed a long, unrequited crush on his chef. Bruhl is made to sniff Cooper’s worn t-shirt and sneak a peek at him as he showers. Then they receive good news in the form of a cheap plot twist (about which more below), and Adam plants a big wet one on Tony, who, surprised, mutters, “Thank you.” The line would work if intended in a sarcastic, don’t-do-me-any-favors way, but I fear it is meant in dead earnest, as if we are to congratulate the hot, rumpled straight guy for throwing the buttoned-up homo a bone.
Back to that plot twist. Omar Sy plays Michel, Jones’ old rival from their Paris days, whom Jones sabotaged by infesting his kitchen with vermin and calling the health board. (Charming.) After they fight in the street, Michel agrees to come work for Jones at his gleaming new resto at the Langham Hotel. The one unanticipated moment in “Burnt” comes over an hour in, the night when two diners who match the profile of Michelin inspectors come for dinner. Everything must be perfectly perfect. So when the entrées are sent back – “too spicy” – Jones is suicidal. He tastes the dishes, which are loaded with cayenne. “I did it,” Michel tells him. “For Paris. Now, we’re even.” There’s a great scene, a long con with a potent (and richly deserved) payoff, except that we find out the next morning Michelin hadn’t been there at all; they were two tyre salesmen from Birmingham. What a jerk-around. It goes without saying, Jones does get that elusive third star, which comes off as a sort of non-event.
Here is one of the most shameless and contemptible movies of the year.