When I think of No Reservations in the past, it was primarily the Travel Channel show of the same name, featuring outspoken and slightly colorful chef Anthony Bourdain, as he traveled every pocket of the word, looking for unique cuisine, be it bad or good. And it's safe to say that, even with the release of a theatrical film by the same name, after seeing said film at least the television show has nothing to worry about anytime soon.
The cinematic version of No Reservations is adapted from the 2002 German film Mostly Martha, with the Americanized incarnation written into screenplay form by Carol Fuchs, and directed by Scott Hicks (Shine). In it, Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Traffic) is a very successful head chef in a New York restaurant. Things change for her dramatically when she becomes the guardian of her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine). She starts spending more time taking care of Zoe, but in a business decision, the restaurant's owner, Paula (Patricia Clarkson, The Green Mile) decides to hire Nick (Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking), a free-spirited sous chef whose Italian cuisine seems to clash with Kate's European flavors. I bet you can tell what happens next, right?
Now, I'm for watching a romantic comedy like any other horizon-broadened male that I know, and at first glance, No Reservations seems interesting, strictly from a casting perspective. But the story is a mix of aborted subplots that certainly would have been welcome surprises (the flushing out of Kate's neighbor Sean, played by Brian F. O'Byrne, being the one that comes to my mind), and tired character conflicts that, at times, seem unconvincing even to the actors. Whoa, there's a moment where Zoe might get taken away from Kate, because Kate is letting her come to work, then go to school, and the school might call social services, whatever is going to happen? Kate hates Nick at first, you don't think she'll start liking him somehow, right? To give Hicks and Fuchs credit, they don't really spend a lot of time on additional characters here and know that the focus is going to be on Nick and Kate, but in the process, they waste the contributions of Clarkson and Bob Balaban (Best in Show), who plays Kate's therapist. Dare I say a more boring and conventional romantic comedy would have given them far more to do than just being squandered here?
One last thing about the film, the one thing that it could have camped its reputation on, and probably the one thing that many people actually paid money to go see this waste of time for in the first place, was the food and how it looked, tasted and all of that. But it doesn't even spend any quality time on that either. The food is flirted with, without taking its dress off and going for second or third base. You get folks talking about it, in the sense of talking about a particular secret or two, and you get a lot of tight shots on the dishes, but do you get anything really worthwhile or memorable? Not really. When it comes to food films, other works of cinema like The Big Night or even Chocolat help show off the allure of cooking and food a little bit more effectively. No Reservations gives us an uptight but talented chef who's not sure about being a mom, the assistant she falls in love with who's a little bit on the hippy side of things, and the little girl who is trying to rest on the laurels of being cute in an excellent previous film, but comes off as a little bit on the lazy side of things when it comes to this performance. But that isn't totally fair of me to pin this on Breslin exclusively, and to use my own stupid little culinary metaphor to describe No Reservations, it's that too many cooks fell asleep in the kitchen when the steak got burned to a crisp.
The Blu-ray Disc:
No Reservations is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen, using the VC-1 codec. It's not really worth writing home about either, as blacks are inconsistent, and whites look a little on the overdone side of things, and the fleshtones also suffer from the presentation too, as well as the level of detail and depth, both of which are pretty non-existent. I probably would have not hated this movie so much if I wasn't so disappointed by how it looked on Blu-ray. No wait, yes I would.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks in English, French and Spanish are included, robbing me of my one and only chance to hear this film with a lossless soundtrack. In all sincerity though, the dialogue is fairly strong on the track, or at least as much as can be expected, and there's not any real surround activity to speak of, I think I can could on one hand the number of opportunities where there was some panning or directional effects to speak of. And my subwoofer got a nice break to sit back and enjoy watching me fumble for the words to describe No Reservations.
Two small featurettes, produced by the Food Network, are the only things to speak of. The first is Eckhart and Breslin appearing on an episode of the now-cancelled show Emeril Live (42:02). They make pizza in the first segment, then sit down as Emeril Lagasse makes the spaghetti, quail and tiramisu dishes that are highlighted in the film. Aside from the occasional interaction with the actors, the show is mostly Lagasse cooking, in case you don't know, and upon further review, I'm guessing the reason why the Food Network didn't renew the show (a staple for years on the channel) is that Emeril was becoming less and less like Emeril, and subtly transforming into Louie DePalma. I'm sure that he's a nice guy, though there were some moments there when you couldn't tell. Another show called "Unwrapped" (21:03), hosted by Marc Summers of Double Dare fame and focusing on certain iconic foods and their histories and creations, shifted said focus to the film, and included interview footage from its stars, along with the chefs who were essentially the film's technical advisors. Neither one of these is really informative in any way, though to see Eckhart discuss his preparation for the role was the closest thing to interesting in the hour's worth of material. But hey, the Emeril Live piece is an exclusive to the BD, HD and certain retail releases, so hooray for small bonuses.
I remain convinced after watching No Reservations is that the only reason it made almost $100 million in worldwide box office receipts was that it was released in the late summer period after some of the summer blockbusters had been released, and served as effective counter-programming to said action and adventure. And for those who paid money to see this, how do you feel now? The technical qualities aren't worth writing home about, the bonus material is sparse, and the film itself is a story I've seen countless times before, most of them have done it a lot better than this. It's not really worth the time.