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Review: 'Chef' ★★ 1/2

Jon Favreau's "Chef" has one goal: to make you want to eat Cuban sandwiches twice a day for the rest of your life. Meat-eating moviegoers of all palates will have a difficult time controlling their drool, thanks to writer-director-star Favreau's close-ups of a snazzy food truck grill in action, sizzling, sizzling away, the ham looking like heaven, to say nothing of the bread and the pickles.

Then, just when things have dried up in the region of your chin, Favreau presents a sequence in New Orleans wherein the father and son at the center of the story embark on a search for beignets. It's like torture, this movie. I ordered out three times during the first hour of "Chef," and they hadn't even gotten to the food truck scenes yet.

"Chef" is an hour's worth of story, rolled out, flat, to cover a two-hour running time. After a cellphone video of a flaming argument with a sour restaurant critic (Oliver Platt) goes viral, the frustrated high-end LA chef played by Favreau loses his job. Encouraged by his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), the chef buys a battered old food truck and, in Miami, he and his preteen son (Emjay Anthony) embark on a Twitter-fueled marketing experiment: a cross-country jaunt accompanied by the chef's friend and fellow kitchen master Martin (John Leguizamo).

With this film Favreau's taking a break from being a blockbuster machine ("Iron Man" 1 and 2, "Cowboys & Aliens"). His alter ego protagonist's yearning to "go indie" feels very much like Favreau's own interest in getting back to his "Swingers"-era roots and interests.

The upside of Favreau's fame can be seen in the supporting cast; A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr. (as his ex-wife's sleazoid ex-lover) and Scarlett Johansson (as the chef's colleague and apparent sometime-squeeze) turn up in this weirdly starry personal project. Favreau's masterly light touch as an actor hasn't yet translated to a similarly deft offhandedness behind the camera. The movie, slick and shallow, is fairly entertaining anyway. And the sandwiches? Holy shiitake mushrooms, they look good.

"Chef" - 2 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: R (for language, including some suggestive references)

Running time: 1:55

Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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