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Burnt

D: John Wells / 101m

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Riccardo Scamarcio, Omar Sy, Sam Keeley, Henry Goodman, Matthew Rhys, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman, Lexie Benbow-Hart, Alicia Vikander, Sarah Greene

Adam Jones (Cooper) is a bit of a cause célèbre in the culinary world, having crashed and burned at the Paris restaurant where he worked thanks to his diva-like behaviour and propensity for drugs and booze. Now clean for two years, he turns up in London at the restaurant run by his friend and colleague from his time in Paris, Tony (Brühl). Adam tells an unimpressed and disbelieving Tony that he’s there to make up for Paris, run the kitchen in a top restaurant, and gain three Michelin stars. Naturally, Tony refuses to help him, but Adam isn’t about to give up. He bullies his way into Tony’s restaurant, shows Tony (and his clientele) what he can do, and eyes up the sous chef, Helene (Miller), with a view to poaching her for his own place.

Which, of course, he does, but not before Helene puts up a (semi-)spirited defence, and Tony has to be dragged away from his own job as a maître d’. Having assembled his kitchen staff, Adam’s opening night doesn’t go as smoothly or successfully as he’d hoped, and the abrasive side of his personality comes out, leading to a tirade of abuse directed at his staff and Helene walking out. But Tony persuades her to come back, and soon she and Adam are starting out on the rocky road to a relationship – of sorts. Back in the kitchen, the apparent arrival of two Michelin Guide inspectors sees Adam go all out to get his three stars, but an unforeseen setback destroys his dream.

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Adam goes off the deep end (albeit for one night) and winds up at the restaurant of a rival chef, Reece (Rhys). There he learns a couple of valuable lessons, reconnects with Tony and Helene, is given a second chance at gaining the three Michelin stars, and begins – again – to put his life back together.

Burnt features a screenplay by Steven Knight, a British screenwriter who’s also responsible for Eastern Promises (2007) and Locke (2013). But he’s also written the likes of Hummingbird (2013) and Seventh Son (2014), so his track record is a little uneven… and Burnt falls firmly into the latter category. There’s very little here that makes sense, and a lot of it happens for no particular reason at all, leaving the drama feeling undercooked and the romance warmed over. For example, we don’t know why Adam chooses London to make his return. It’s never explained how he manages to stay clean without attending any meetings (“I’m not good in groups,” he keeps saying). And his backers have insisted he have weekly blood tests to ensure he’s not using again; if he does they’ll withdraw their backing. (This is where Emma Thompson comes in, as the therapist who takes his blood. Why not the hospital or a doctors’ surgery? It’s a strange arrangement, and one that just sits there like a fait accompli.)

Elsewhere there are subplots and other subplots that have their own subplots, like the money Adam owes to some unsavoury types in Paris, and who have traced him to London (having failed to learn he was in the US for two years while getting and staying sober). On the back of that we’re introduced – very briefly – to an old flame (played by Vikander) who drifts in and out of the movie and provides no threat whatsoever to the relationship Adam has with Helene (it might have been predictable but it would also have raised the movie out of the dramatic doldrums it rolls around in for an hour and a half).

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And when the script decides to throw in the notion that Tony is in love with Adam, it comes literally out of nowhere and then is left hanging there to dwindle away to nothing. Maybe these moments are meant to add depth or meaning to the various relationships in the movie, but all they do is confirm the notion that Knight hasn’t really got to grips with what the movie is meant to be saying. Adam rants unconvincingly at his staff, and thanks to the movie’s PG-13 approach, sounds less like Gordon Ramsay and more like someone having a good whinge. There’s the awkward use of his rival, Reece, as well. One minute Reece is disparaging of Adam’s talent and attempt at redemption, the next he’s stuck with lines like “You’re better than me. But the rest of us need you to lead us to places we wouldn’t otherwise go.” (Really?)

There’s more, too much more, and things aren’t helped by Wells’ direction, which remains staunchly flavourless throughout, and a cast who struggle continually to do their best but remain hamstrung by Knight’s script. Cooper, normally a very capable actor, doesn’t seem to know what to do with his character, and goes with the flow of each individual scene, so that he’s angry one moment, happy the next, confused after that, and then determined, but it’s like he’s acted in each scene with no intention of linking them with any other scenes, or the picture as a whole.

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Miller is poorly used – again – and the other female roles don’t even amount to a whole one. Thompson does just enough, Vikander isn’t allowed to do even that, and Thurman pops up as a food critic who can’t even do bitchy properly (honestly, Anton Ego from Ratatouille (2007) was more caustic). On the male side, Sy is kept firmly in the background until the script needs him (only twice), Brühl struggles with a character who gives new meaning to the word “bland”, and Scamarcio is virtually a passer-by as one of the two French thugs. The Doors once sang, “No one here gets out alive”, but in terms of Burnt, the line should be “No one here gets to act alive”.

Rating: 4/10 – with the food on display looking bright and vibrant and good enough to eat, a plate is the only place you’ll find anything that’s vibrant in Burnt; tedious, muddled and poorly constructed, this is a movie that should be sent back for being completely inedible.

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