Emjay Anthony as Percy Casper and Jon Favreau as Carl Casper in "Chef." Photo Credit: Merrick Morton.

Emjay Anthony as Percy Casper and Jon Favreau as Carl Casper in “Chef.” Photo Credit: Merrick Morton.

Mouths move incessantly in Jon Favreau’s hearty culinary comedy Chef (which picked up an audience award during its New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival), but it’s not due to an endless stream of chatter. Rather, it’s because patrons are funneling Chef Carl Casper’s renowned chow down their gullets and licking their lips in satisfaction.

Casper (Favreau, also the film’s writer-director-producer) is a heavyweight in the kitchen, both metaphorically and physically, an edgy veteran heading up one of Los Angeles’ premier restaurants. Where Casper likes to make taste buds dance to an up-tempo syncopation by pushing the envelope whenever he can, establishment owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) prefers that he stick to the boundaries of a traditional menu. After the city’s most prominent food critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), pans the chef in a review, the foodie and food-maker engage in a heated back-and-forth social media war that eventually comes to a full boil (in a hilariously cringe-worthy way). Suffice it to say that Casper, finding himself without other options, starts a Cuban-sandwich-style food truck business, and embarks on a prolonged cross-country tour with his partner Martin (John Leguizamo) and son Percy (Emjay Anthony) that makes for an enjoyable, genre-blending mix of soul-searching, dream-chasing, highway high jinks and, of course, some damn good grub.

To sum up Chef in one word, “fun” would be an appropriate descriptor. Favreau’s engaging directorial style is chock full of energetic montage shots of chopping, grinding, mincing, plating, seasoning, sizzling, searing and sautéing — as well as pretty much every other term to come out of a kitchen — and is guaranteed to make any food lover go weak at the knees. Or at the very least develop an insatiable appetite. And a soundtrack of soul and salsa infuses an additional level of spice. But what ultimately gives the film its heat is its ensemble cast of big-name actors filling the shoes of big-personality types: Bobby Cannavale as bro-y sous-chef Tony; Sofia Vergara as Casper’s ex-wife Inez (a more subdued version of her firecracker character on the TV show Modern Family); Robert Downey, Jr. as Inez’s former husband Marvin (or, rather, Tony Stark’s personality twin); and Scarlett Johansson as friend-with-benefits restaurant hostess Molly — as well as the aforementioned Hoffman, Platt and Leguizamo (the latter of which, along with Favreau, delivers the comedic heart of the film, whether via humorous quips or more low-brow antics). Picture this image: two grown men pouring corn starch down their pants to soothe their “werewolves” on a hot summer day.

Where the story delivers on comedy, though, it’s wanton for a beefier story. Favreau incarnates his hulking character with a sure-footedness in the kitchen that has us wondering if he should perhaps abandon a film career for more savory pastures. But the transformation of a father-son relationship from strained to resilient as the familial duo travels together on a culinary tour, learning mutually from one another, isn’t nearly as believable. The premise resembles that of the great, though ultimately tragic, father-son road movie Road to Perdition, except feels much less organic — and features a spatula instead of a Tommy gun. If only Emeril Lagasse were on set to kick it up a notch. And for all the vitality pulsing throughout Chef, a thick layer of cheese spread on top by the film’s end saps the flavor and leaves the dish tasting like a bland concoction moviegoers have already been served several times over.

Overall, though, Chef is a helluva triumph over the cosmic abomination that was Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens, and its commentary on contemporary society’s social-media obsession strikes a smart balance between slightly mocking disapproval and bona fide acceptance. In fact, Favreau’s approach is almost didactic, like an objective weighing of the pros and cons of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine and the like. (And, of course, Favreau doesn’t miss the opportunity to poke fun at adult confusion with the stuff, or cross over into the territory of equating “social networking” to “pussy.”) A word to the wise: Eat before your excursion to the theater, because Chef is guaranteed to make you #hungry.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

Video Courtesy of JoBlo Movie Trailers.

Cincopa WordPress plugin