Review: BURNT (2015)

NOTE: Publication of this review is possible in part through contributions to The MovieBob Patreon.

Yeesh. What a bucket of suck this thing is.

I’m sorry. I try as best I’m able to save the more colorful witticisms for the video reviews, but some bad movies are exactly bad enough in such a particular way that it feels unjust to approach them with more civilized verbiage. BURNT, featuring one of current Hollywood’s most overexposed performers inhabiting the apotheosis of his own most tiresome stock-persona in one of the most annoying recurring narratives of the last decade or so (the mercurial ultra-driven muy-macho auteur-badass who really is so damn good at his vocation that world is just going to have to learn to deal with it, bro!), is practically the Platonic ideal of this very type; with Bradley Cooper mugging, shouting and hard-staring his way through an “I’m a troubled genius, give me an Oscar!!!” turn that asks its audience: “Sure, you loved RATATOUILLE – but wouldn’t you love it more with an abusive, too-cool-for-school douchebag whose talent justifies his every flaw?”

90% of what you need to know about BURNT is that it was originally titled simply “ADAM JONES,” the name of Cooper’s self-consciously cocky master chef who alternately stomps or strides through every scene like a nightmare-offspring of House M.D. and Bobby Flay. The story is ostensibly about Jones rebuilding his reputation as a world-class chef by retooling the upscale London restaurant of an old pal (Daniel Bruhl) and chasing an elusive Third Star from the Michelin Guide; but it’s immediately apparent that the only story it has any real interest in telling is “Adam Jones is the coolest motherfucker walking the Earth, and Bradley Cooper totally deserves a Best Actor nomination for informing you of this fact.”

Yes, Jones strut the streets (except for scenes where he drives them on a “borrowed” motorcycle), stalk back-alleys and stride through brushed-metal kitchens of London in a leather jacket and daytime-sunglasses like a mid-90s Zucker Bros parody of an early Tom Cruise role; but that’s just for openers. He also flips tables in fits of artistic torment, shakes and shoves his underlings like a drill sergeant (which only makes them respect him more, naturally), flamed-out in glorious rock star fashion (he did all the drugs, you guys) because even he couldn’t handle his own awesomeness yet has only become more ruggedly-handsome as a result. He righteously eschews fancy modern cooking devices in favor of classical techniques (no namby-pamby test-tube nerdery here, yo!), dodges/absorbs-blows-from the henchmen of an angry druglord, and returns from self-imposed exile only after completing a perfectly Hemmingway-esque blue collar self-flagellation ritual of shucking exactly one million oysters in a New Orleans steam-shack (no, really.)

It’s the sort of “hero’s journey” pastiche where nearly every character, friend or foe, is built with what they’re words and actions can reinforce to us about Adam Jones as their sole and sufficient foundation. Sienna Miller’s put-upon single mom and sou chef repays his bullying her (physical-assault included) into becoming her best possible self by falling in love with him. His arch-nemesis (Matthew Rhys) rescues him from a post-all-is-lost-moment bender and nurses him back to health because (I am not making this up) he needs a rival as potent as Adam Jones to make his life worth living. Uma Thurman’s cameo as a food critic lasts exactly long enough for her to inform us that she set her lesbianism aside for at least one night to bed him, while Daniel Bruhl’s quietly-reserved maitre’d is revealed as gay midway through the story exclusively so we can be assured that he, too, is along for the ride because he’s desperately in love with Adam Jones.

I’ll be honest: All this self-sustaining hero worship (the goddamn AVENGERS movies don’t spend this much time establishing the awesomeness of their protagonists, and one of those guys is a literal god) had me longing for the (relative) subtlety of CHEF; which I’ll remind you was about how Jon Favreau was such a transcendently great director chef that his post-Marvel movies cuban sandwiches were so scrumptious as to turn film food critics into business partners and no less than Scarlet Johansson and Sofia Vergara into salivating coital supplicants. At this rate the next “kitchen-skills-as-cock-size” vanity piece will be about an ex-Navy SEAL black-belt whose artisanal tilapia dumplings are capable of putting an entire stadium’s worth of Victoria’s Secret Angels into immediate post-multiorgasmic comas by their aroma alone.

Some of this might be forgivable if BURNT was at least stylish or had a modicum of humor about itself, but neither is the case. The proceedings are flatly directed John Wells, also responsible for the not-bad COMPANY MAN and the frankly embarassing AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Wells is mainly known as a celebrated TV producer, and there are spots where one can see where BURNT might have worked as a series where the peripheral characters could have more going on than reassuring us of what an incredible guy Adam Jones is. But even then, the casting is likely an impossible hurdle: Adam Jones is so perfectly a Bradley Cooper Role that Bradley Cooper should never have gone near it.

Cooper isn’t a bad actor (he’s pretty good, in fact) but his seemingly-natural cocksure persona has made him the latest actor thrust into the role of replacing “lovable asshole” titans in the vein of Bill Murray (or Harrison Ford) and he just doesn’t have the sense of gravity (or mileage) about him to make it work. There’s never enough “natural” depth to his turns in this vein to make him tolerable without some extra layer of mitigating distance (i.e. being the “Chaotic Neutral” member of THE HANGOVER or being a space raccoon in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) to let us regard him beyond the surface. Maybe an actor with a more authentically rough-feeling edge (Ryan Gosling, maybe?) or a built-in “opposite” persona to put us off guard (a teddy bear like Kevin James?) could’ve turned Adam Jones into someone sort-of worth following around for 100 minutes or so.

But as for Cooper, this isn’t the one that’s going to get him “there;” and should probably stop saying “yes” to screenplays that sound written with his headshot from THE HANGOVER taped to the wall.

This review was possible in part through contributions to The MovieBob Patreon. If you would like see more like it, please consider becoming a Patron.

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