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      Burnt Review

      Burnt poster

      Burnt

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      In "Burnt," playing a brilliant, tormented American chef clawing his way to the top of the London culinary scene, Bradley Cooper throws more tantrums than a season's worth of "Rugrats."

      The movie is devoted three ways: to the character's reckless past as an apprentice in Paris, drink and drugs and women strewn in his wake; to his lust for the validation of a coveted third Michelin star rating ("I want people to be sick with longing," he says of his cooking ambitions); and to an artery-clogging number of close-ups, frenetically edited by Nick Moore, of the film's real stars. The real stars are the potatoes and filets and mackerel sizzling in hot lakes of butter or lounging just so, with just the right garnish, on an obscenely well-arranged dinner plate.

      "Burnt" is sufferin', followed by succotash. Since we all like to eat, foodie movies can be regular gold mines. "Burnt" screenwriter Steven Knight recently scored a popular success with one, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" (Helen Mirren versus spice-loving interlopers in provincial France). Even so, a so-so foodie movie has a way of stoking your raging class issues and questioning all the waste. In "Burnt" each time Adam, Cooper's character, hurls a plate of imperfectly cooked hundred-dollar entree against a gleaming kitchen wall, I felt like calling the cops, or a homeless shelter, or something. Then another tight shot of a prawn dancing in hot butter came along, sending me into another drooly micro-reverie.

      Beginning in New Orleans, "Burnt" whisks Adam to London where he's aiming to begin anew after a spectacular flameout years earlier in Paris. With the wary but adoring help of some old kitchen comrades, including maitre d' Tony (Daniel Bruhl, pursed lips and lovelorn glances every second) and sous chef Michel (Omar Sy), Adam takes over Tony's sleepy fine-dining establishment. He staffs the newly energized and relentlessly bullied kitchen with, among others, the wizardly, comely Helene (Sienna Miller), seduced into Adam's hot-tempered universe because she's tough enough to learn from a seriously unpleasant protagonist.

      Part of the problem with "Burnt" relates to Adam as written. He's a pill. It's easy -- too easy -- for a movie to establish a bad boy's bad behavior and then, for audience sympathy purposes, gradually reveal his demons and vulnerabilities and turn him into a redeemable human being. Here, each and every character orbiting the glorious, arrogant sun that is Adam keeps finding reasons to forgive and forget, which is noble but improbable. While Cooper modulates Adam's mood swings as artfully as possible, burying his own charm (some would say "smarm") under all-nighter stubble and a look of vague regret, "Burnt" is one those character studies where character, dramatic nuance, doesn't actually count for much.

      Director John Wells dices the action, even the simplest conversation, into five harried shots when one would suffice. The many food-prep montages are cut and paced to the same numbing rhythm. The film doesn't lack for conflict; Adam has drug dealers on his tail, and an ex-lover (Alicia Vikander) who pops in from Paris. But only Emma Thompson, doing what she can in a few minutes of screen time as Adam's wise recovery counselor, adds the ingredient "Burnt" otherwise lacks: a human pulse. In Hollywood's high-comic heyday, with an Ernst Lubitsch or a Preston Sturges in the kitchen, a movie about haute cuisine egomaniacs who'd kill for a Michelin star wouldn't have dared to handle its subjects quite so sanctimoniously. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some ramen to get to.

      MPAA rating: R (for language throughout).

      Running time: 1:40

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