"Simply Irresistible," a heavily diluted version of "Like Water for Chocolate," stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as a chef with such mystical powers that people who eat her meals float off on clouds of romantic rapture.
One of the other ways in which the film declares itself a fantasy is that Gellar, as the saucy Amanda Shelton, wears a $500 Todd Oldham gold lame camisole and four-inch spike heels to work in a Manhattan restaurant kitchen.
The film opens as Amanda cruises the Union Square green market, shopping for the restaurant, and receives condolences from vendors who've heard that the third-generation joint where Amanda's late mother once cooked is about to close. Seems that while her mom was a culinary alchemist, everything Amanda touches turns to glue.
Amanda is unaware that her fairy godfather (Christopher Durang), a spectral crab vendor, has put a spell on her so that she can put a spell on others through her cooking. Thus, when a really cute restaurateur, Tom (Sean Patrick Flanery), comes to Amanda's with his insufferable girlfriend, he falls into a swoon from his meal while his paramour goes batty. Amanda, once the worst chef in town, is suddenly the toast of Manhattan.
Since Tom manages the about-to-open eatery at the Henri Bendel department store, "Simply Irresistible" overindulges its appetite for couture and cuisine. One wishes first-time screenwriter Judith Roberts (who should fork over whatever she made on this film to "Like Water for Chocolate" author Laura Esquivel) had paid as much attention to exposition as to fashion and food fads.
While plausibility isn't a key ingredient in fantasy, basic cause and effect is. "Simply Irresistible" is simply ridiculous when it comes to the conflict that will divide its love-struck heroine and hero.
Gellar and Flanery are conventionally cute enough to generate a few sparks, and one scene in which they share homemade eclairs and levitate in love is actually quite nice. The wry supporting performances by Patricia Clarkson (as Tom's associate) and Dylan Baker (as Tom's boss, Mr. Bendel) easily upstage those of the leads.
The nicest thing that can be said about "Simply Irresistible" is that its filmmakers cared enough to steal the very best.
Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Christopher Durang, Sean Patrick Flanery
Directed by Mark Tarlov
Released by 20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 (sexual themes)
Running time: 95 minutes
Sun score: * *
Pub Date: 2/05/99