No Reservations, a slight, fitfully charming cinematic piffle, is the visual equivalent of a popover. It's mostly hollow, light to the touch and once consumed, almost immediately forgotten. Director Scott Hicks -- you remember him from 1996's much-buzzed about Shine -- orchestrates the proceedings with flair, but without much oomph. It's glossy, glib and wholly predictable yet you can't quite hate it for what it is (not unlike, say, a decadent dessert capping off an extraordinarily gluttonous meal).
Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as Type A chef Kate Armstrong, whose kitchen at trendy New York City bistro 22 Bleeker is a well-oiled, critically acclaimed machine. Not a drop of saffron sauce or side of rare beef is out of place and that's just the way Kate likes it. In the aftermath of a tragic accident involving her sister Leah (Jenny Wade) and her precocious niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin), Kate suddenly finds her life turned upside down. The abrupt change in lifestyle is further complicated by restaurant owner Paula's (Patricia Clarkson) brash new hire Nick Palmer (Aaron Eckhart), an accomplished chef eager to work alongside the highly regarded Kate.
If you can't see where all these tried-and-true plot strands -- hyper-focused career woman learns to stop and smell the roses; battle of the sexes near open flames and sharp utensils; childless, un-wed woman embraces her inner mom; quirky chef in therapy with a dry-witted foodie (Bob Balaban) must help herself -- then you've not been to the movies in a while. Carol Fuchs' Americanization of Sandra Nettlebeck's 2001 German film Mostly Martha employs nearly every tactic from the chick flick playbook, so much so that I actually left the room during a pivotal moment -- predicting what would happen as I did so -- and returned to find out that the movie had unfolded exactly as I thought it would.
Still, the cast acquits itself well, for the most part -- Breslin seems to be on auto-pilot for most of the film, but Zeta-Jones and Eckhart share a mischievous chemistry that really helps the narrative coast over many of the more predictable moments. Clarkson is wasted in a miniscule role, while Balaban barely registers in his scant moments onscreen -- the same could be said for Brian F. O'Byrne, an excellent Irish actor whose role as Sean is thankless.
As I mentioned at the top, No Reservations doesn't have any illusions about what it is -- a handsomely mounted, hugely inoffensive romantic dramedy with just enough spice to keep the fellas from dozing off. It's glossy, glib and wholly predictable yet you can't quite hate it for what it is (not unlike, say, a decadent dessert capping off an extraordinarily gluttonous meal). Bon appetit!
All of that prime meat (uh, I'm referring to the steak and fish entrees) and those exotic spices look downright mouthwatering in this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Lush, vibrant colors and deep, saturated blacks make the images pop throughout, with no discernible print defects or authoring issues. It's a gorgeous visual representation of recently filmed material. For those with unadventurous palates, an optional 1.33:1 fullscreen version is also included.
Three flavors of Dolby Digital 5.1 are offered -- English, French and Spanish -- and while I only sampled the English version, I found it to be an immersive, detailed soundtrack that captured dialogue, score and sound effects with no distortion, drop-out or other flagrant problems. An excellent companion to the visuals. Optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are also here.
Supplements-wise, it's barely an after-dinner mint's worth of bonus features: An episode of the Food Network's "Unwrapped," hosted by Marc Summers, that first aired in July 2007 prior to the film's release, is the only bonus on board.
No Reservations, a slight, fitfully charming cinematic piffle, is the visual equivalent of a popover. It's glossy, glib and wholly predictable yet you can't quite hate it for what it is (not unlike, say, a decadent dessert capping off an extraordinarily gluttonous meal). Bon appetit! Rent it.