REVIEW: Burnt

14 11 2015

BurntBradley Cooper is among the most interesting American actors working today, so it’s a shame that he chose such an uninteresting project like “Burnt” at perhaps the apex of his stardom. For the man who was a crucial part in powering the first non-tentpole film to the top of the yearly box office since 1998, such a conventional tale told with little panache cannot help but disappoint.

That’s not to say that “Burnt” is empty of any merit or entertainment, though. In fact, it plays at around the same register as “Aloha,” Cooper’s unfairly savaged starring vehicle from earlier in 2015. John Wells’ film and Steven Knight’s script produce modest results from a modest effort, where Cameron Crowe went all out only to wind up with a mixed bag of failures and successes. Either way, the fact that Bradley Cooper can emerge from these two movies untarnished by their narrative struggles further attests to his place in the pantheon of his generation’s finest actors.

Perhaps someone could psychoanalyze Bradley Cooper to determine what keeps bringing him back to these stories of redemption. In 2005, he starred in an ill-fated TV comedy called “Kitchen Confidential” as a star chef seeking a comeback after personal issues put his career in jeopardy. In 2012, he changed the way most audiences in “Silver Linings Playbook” as Pat Solitano, a bipolar man seeking to put his life back together after a meltdown gets him institutionalized.

Four Oscar nominations later, in 2015, Cooper still seems to feel some need to prove himself through the character of Adam Jones in “Burnt,” a chef seeking a coveted third Michelin star in London after drug and alcohol abuse wrecked his last restaurant. (Sound familiar?) Jones is loud, brash and kind of a nightmare to handle. But he swaggers about with such authority that a crack team of cooks with global roots lines up to endure his abuse and work with him.

Bradley Cooper in Burnt

“Burnt” hits all the expected beats as Jones moves furiously and passionately in pursuit of his goal. This simple objective and obstacle dynamic makes it easy to focus attention on the film’s two big assets: Cooper and the food, immaculately styled by world-class chefs Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. Jones says he wants to deal in culinary orgasms, and if only our eyes had taste buds to relish what appears on screen.

Yet the film fails Cooper by presenting him with far too many opportunities to put up a facade of toughness and not nearly enough to show the wounded man underneath who feels he has to overcompensate with this performance. As one of few male actors today willing to draw authentic vulnerability from within, it’s frustrating that “Burnt” makes us wait over an hour for Cooper to let his guard down. When he finally gets the chance to vocally and vulnerably admit his fear towards the very end, it feels like too little, too late. B2halfstars

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