No funny business in Le Chef
Starring: Jean Reno, Satiago Segura, Salomé Stévenin, Julien Boisselier, Michaél Youn
France's Jean Reno appears to have an inherent knack of juggling his native cinema's needs with whatever bigger-budget affairs Hollywood wishes to throw at him. Formerly known as a somewhat suave action man - and possibly still best remembered outside of France for grounding Luc Besson's Leon (aka The Professional) - the now 64-year-old French-Moroccan giant turns his considerable talents to the classic French farce.
Playing a Michelin-starred chef named Alexandre Lagarde, Reno delivers a likeable, frothy double act with his co-star Michaél Youn, who's cast as the friend and potential saviour, Jacky. The pair are faced with the ruthless ambition of Lagarde's retired business partner's son, Stanislaw (Julien Boisselier), whose extreme Machiavellian antics are designed to displace Lagarde's stature, in favour of some fresh ingredients.
Boisselier, in keeping with the farcical nature of the piece, is severely over the top, to the point of absurdity. He also appears unlikely to have spent much time in a kitchen, let alone in a top restaurant. Which, it appears, is precisely the point. Whether you can swallow the nonsensical nature of his scheming is another matter.
Matters soon turn, albeit briefly, to the extreme. Lagarde and Jacky pair up to steal a menu from a rival eaterie, with Reno posing as a Japanese ambassador - no joke - in full ceremonial garb. The lively, nimble Youn, meanwhile, opts for drag, in a sequence that will raise an eyebrow in political correctness, but proves the high point in an otherwise softly textured comedic romp.
Quite why the director Daniel Cohn didn't wish to go for broke isn't entirely clear: had he let his two leads run riot, the film would have felt more like a screwball comedy of errors, rather than a mere soufflé trifle. This is French farce in its most straightforward guise rather than the radical, cutting satire some would wish for.
Reno has just been confirmed to play the mad monk Rasputin, in Rose Bosch's forthcoming historical romp of the same name (her previous outing being the excellent French Second World War drama, The Round Up). Clearly, he's having the time of his life flexing his acting chops as broadly as he believes they can go. If and when he decides to pursue home-grown comedy again, one can only hope it's with a brasher edge attached to a well-intended idea that, here, isn't fully realised.
Published: August 2, 2012 04:00 AM