There’s no doubt that Bradley Cooper goes all-in performance-wise for Burnt, in which he plays a chef psychotically determined to get his third Michelin star. Too bad it’s in service of a character that’s hard to root for when we the audience are supposed to be doing so. In actuality, his character is a totally unlikeable prick.
After going sober for over two years and shucking a million oysters as penance for his previous bad behavior, Adam Jones (Cooper) heads to Paris, intent upon regaining his status as a legendary chef and attaining that hallowed “third star” status.
He starts his quest by terrorizing restaurant owner Tony (Daniel Bruhl), a former friend turned enemy who had a crush on him but now hates him. Jones sets up a scenario with a food critic (Uma Thurman) that would probably get most people arrested for fraud, but in the movies it gets him control of a kitchen.
Jones stocks his kitchen with a motley crew of cooks, including Michel (Omar Sy), a fellow chef he double-crossed years earlier by setting rats loose in his new restaurant, and David (Sam Keeley) a young up-and-comer who idolizes Jones and allows him to stay at his apartment.
Best among his recruits would be Helene (the always interesting Sienna Miller), another hotshot chef that Jones intimidates and basically forces to work with him. Admittedly, it’s cool to see Cooper and Miller reteam after their successful venture as husband and wife in American Sniper. Their chemistry is one of the better things about the movie.
What doesn’t work is the dour tone and supreme douchebag-ness of Jones, ultimately leading to a film that’s a task to watch. Director John Wells (August: Osage County) finds little moments of humor in the story that wind up being quite refreshing. The film’s tone, however, is all over the place. One second, it’s a kitchen comedy, and the next, it’s an ineffective story about some asshole’s struggle with sobriety. It never comes together as a whole.
Wells does a decent job of capturing the intensity of a high-octane kitchen required to deliver perfect dishes all night (although, oddly, there is very little focus on the actual food). The cast is convincing as cooks—Cooper boasts some decent knife dexterity—as cooks, and the kitchen scenes crackle with life. Out of the kitchen, not so much.
Clichés abound as Jones is terrorized by drug dealers seeking past debts and crosstown chefs looking to end his quest. A scene where Jones falls off the wagon is overwrought, as is his meeting with a past junkie girlfriend. Simply put, the story of Adam Jones has been told before, with less garlic and scallops.
Cooper tries his best, as he always does. The man put on a lot of muscle weight for American Sniper, and he speaks some fluent French and walks a credible walk as a world famous chef. The script is as much an enemy of his Adam Jones as is a fork on the floor on critic night.
Miller is good as the chef who will, undoubtedly, become a Jones love interest. Problem here is that her character is far more interesting than Jones. Burnt would’ve been a better movie had it been her story with Jones as a supporting player. A full movie of Jones proves to be a tad much.
Bruhl delivers another decent performance in a movie that doesn’t quite deserve it. Emma Thompson is asked to play a role she seems too young for as a matronly investor representative who tests Jones’s blood for chemicals while doling out live advice.
Burnt is a passion project for Cooper, and he definitely puts a lot of passion into it. His film, in the end, is ruined by too much seasoning and a host of bad ingredients, resulting in something that doesn’t taste all that good once it gets past the teeth.