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Review: The Chef, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Step Up 4: Miami Heat

By August 14, 2012No Comments

The Chef posterCinema and fine food have been get­ting along rather well in recent times. This year El Bulli show­cased the amaz­ing molecu­lar cre­ations of Spanish geni­us Ferran Adrià and the painstak­ing sea­food cre­ations in Jiro Dreams of Sushi are still on select screens here in Wellington. Films like those hon­our the cre­ativ­ity, train­ing, hard work and exper­i­ence of some remark­able people. Meanwhile, Daniel Cohen’s The Chef takes a dif­fer­ent path and mer­ci­lessly – and humour­lessly – sat­ir­ises their pretensions.

The great Jean Reno (The Big Blue, The Professional) is Alexandre Lagarde, still head chef and cre­at­ive force behind the Paris res­taur­ant that bears his name but long since sold out to cor­por­ate interests that pimp him out for tv cook­ing shows and frozen super­mar­ket ready-meals. Jacky Bonnot (Michaël Youn) is Lagarde’s biggest fan – a tal­en­ted young chef whose tal­ents are unre­cog­nised by the bis­tros and road­side cafés that reg­u­larly fire him.

When Lagarde’s phil­istine mas­ters find a clause in his con­tract allow­ing them to remove him if he loses one of his three Michelin stars, they see an oppor­tun­ity to replace him with a fash­ion­able young gast­ro­nom­ic hot­shot. Lagarde and Bonnot dis­cov­er each oth­er and an odd-couple kit­chen rela­tion­ship begins that may just allow the old man to keep his repu­ta­tion – and give the young­er one a kit­chen of his own.

Reno has nev­er been unwatch­able in his life, and he’s fine enough here even though his char­ac­ter – like the rest of them – seems undeveloped. The plot is pre­dict­able and the dra­mat­ic ten­sion is as dif­fi­cult to loc­ate as the com­edy. The French have a word for this – soufflé. Actually, they also have anoth­er – fro­mage.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter posterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a one joke idea with no actu­al jokes. Rushed into pro­duc­tion to cash in on the suc­cess of Seth Grahame-Smith’s best­selling nov­el, the film is ton­ally incon­sist­ent as if it isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. When young Abe Lincoln’s beloved moth­er is murdered by a vam­pire as pun­ish­ment for the family’s unpaid debt, he resolves to not rest until he has his revenge. A mys­ter­i­ous stranger (Dominic Cooper) teaches the young man the ways of the undead, schools him in silver-tipped axe-craft and sends him into the world to defend it against the blood­suck­ing menace.

The vam­pire pop­u­la­tion is – for the most part – con­fined to the south, feed­ing on slaves and occa­sion­ally leech­ing into the north­ern states. When ideal­ist­ic Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) decides to free the slaves, he pro­vokes a mighty civil war as the vam­pires see their oppor­tun­ity to rule over the entire country.

Director Timur Bekmambetov made Wanted in 2008, about a team of mys­ter­i­ous weaver/assassins receiv­ing instruc­tions from a magic loom, so his stu­pid idea fil­ter is obvi­ously non-functional. Visually, he and cine­ma­to­graph­er Caleb Deschanel have bravely chosen a hyper-saturated look with each scene dom­in­ated by a single col­our and – while I respect the exper­i­ment­a­tion – it is extremely un-beautiful.

Populated by rel­at­ively cheap British act­ors – or rel­at­ively unknown US ones – it’s nice to see Toi Whakaari and Shortland Street gradu­ate Marton Csokas chew­ing big screen scenery again. When he meets his demise, all loc­al interest in this film ceases.

Step Up 4: Miami Heat posterThe first Step Up film in 2006 launched beef­cake Channing Tatum on an unsus­pect­ing world. Step Up 4: Miami Heat (also known as Step Up Revolution) looks to have no such impact as the returns have now dim­ished bey­ond nor­mal meas­ure­ment. A bunch of “tal­en­ted” kids – I’d cred­it them except you’ll nev­er hear from them again – have formed a flash-mob crew to go for a pres­ti­gi­ous and luc­rat­ive YouTube prize. They turn up unan­nounced at events, dance their little asses off and then pimp their videos to try and be the first chan­nel to 10 mil­lion hits.

When a loc­al developer (Peter Gallagher, still best known in this house for Sex, Lies, and Videotape) announces that a new hotel is going to des­troy the wrong side of the tracks where the kids live and work, they decide to use their inter­net fame to stick it to “the man”. Like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer, this is also in 3D and it’s also butt-ugly although it seems more acci­dent­al than delib­er­ate in this case. The DoP goes by the name of “Crash” but per­haps that should be “Train Crash” because there’s noth­ing about the look of this film that works.

These dance movies still make pots of money in New Zealand but I’ll be fol­low­ing the box office per­form­ance closely, hop­ing that audi­ences have finally exer­cised some dis­cre­tion about a film so cyn­ic­al it even ends with a Coldplay ballad.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 8 August, 2012.