Adam Jones is a Chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior. He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars.
Culinary metaphors aside, John Wells’ entry in the feel-good foodie film subgenre is neither as cloying as last year’s The Hundred-Foot Journey (featuring Helen Mirren in full French drag) nor as scruffily likeable as Jon Favreau’s Chef. Glib, sloppy and shamelessly clichéd, it’s a middling vehicle for its charismatic leading man Bradley Cooper, who sweats and swears up a storm as a disgraced chef orchestrating a comeback. Cooper can do this kind of arrogant-but-irresistible golden boy shtick in his sleep, but that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable to watch. Flashing his baby blues and a fiery temper, the actor gives a fully engaged performance that almost makes us want to forgive the movie’s laziness. Almost.
Burnt opens with Adam Jones (Cooper) moving from New Orleans to London, where he plots his return to the world of big white plates and tiny, artfully assembled piles of food. Once a revered, two-Michelin-starred chef in Paris, Jones suffered a spectacular drug- and alcohol-fueled fall from grace. Now he’s back on the old continent, and on the hunt for a new kitchen in which to pursue that elusive third star.
Complicating his quest is the fact that, well, he’s kind of an asshole. Via some clunky expository dialogue, Burnt fills us in on Adam’s past sins, which include planting rats in his friend/rival Michel’s restaurant and then calling the health department. Thanks to our protagonist’s powers of persuasion — who could resist that million-dollar smile? — Michel (Omar Sy) forgives Adam and agrees to work for him when he lands a gig as head chef at a fancy joint run by another old frenemy, Tony (a fine Daniel Bruhl).
Also recruited to toil under Adam in his new kitchen is talented sous chef Helene (Sienna Miller). Burnt gives Helene multiple ear piercings and a hipsterish undercut to, you know, signify her spunk and independent spirit; the movie also makes her a single mom so that she’s a viable love interest for Adam. Miller is terrific — unfussy, charming, all coiled energy in the cooking scenes — and it’s nice to hear her native accent after her back-to-back Middle American wives in Foxcatcher and American Sniper (in which she costarred with Cooper). She and Cooper spark off one another nicely here, their combativeness carrying a charge of hostility more compelling than the coy romantic tension studio movies usually feed us when two attractive performers share the screen.