It's a little harder to say what is wrong with No Reservations except that there really isn't anything wrong with it. The movie is too safe and predictable, following the expected recipe (pun intended) so fervently, that all the ingredients mix to create a dish that doesn't taste bad so much as insult the palate of the viewer.
Many times, it's easy to say what is wrong with a movie: the acting was poor; the characters were unrealistic; the director jumped around too much or used poor storytelling techniques. It's a little harder to say what is wrong with No Reservations except that there really isn't anything wrong with it. The movie is too safe and predictable, following the expected recipe (pun intended) so fervently, that all the ingredients mix to create a dish that doesn't taste bad so much as insult the palate of the viewer.
The movie focuses on Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the head chef at the very chic and popular restaurant 22 Bleecker Street. Her passion is creating food that challenges her talents and astonishes her patrons. Kate has created a life where nothing is left to chance so there is no room for mistakes.
That life is seriously interrupted and sidetracked by the death of her sister which leaves Kate to care for her niece, Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Kate has no idea how to raise a child and struggles to help Zoe through the tragedy of losing her mom at such a young age. While Kate is away, her boss, Paula (Patricia Clarkson), hires Nick (Aaron Eckhart), an eccentric chef who just happens to be the antithesis of Kate. At first Kate and Nick butt heads, but Nick shows Kate how to become closer to Zoe, which in turn brings Kate closer to Nick.
Missing from No Reservations is any sense of or attempt at something unique or inventive. Like many of the dishes Kate takes such pride in, this formula is so over-practiced that the movie coasts through on proven set-ups and resolutions, never challenging the audience or the creators of the movie. The only relief from the mundane execution is a wonderful score by the amazing Philip Glass, who brings a trace of magic and mystery to a movie with fewer surprises than a Harlem Globetrotters game.
Zeta-Jones does an apt job as Kate, letting her frustrations and obsessions bubble just below the surface. We've seen far better from her in Traffic and Chicago, so it is sad to see her take such a safe role. Eckhart is again compelling to watch and clearly has taken this role to increase his public visibility and popularity. His track record of small movies, large movies, bad guys and good guys shows that he is capable of so much more, but is still trying to stabilize his footing with the public.
To balance the stilted performances by the adults is the charismatic and pitch-perfect performance by Breslin, fresh off her Oscar nomination for Little Miss Sunshine. She's cute and adorable as Zoe, who surrounds herself with her stuffed animal collection to feel safe, but she also shows the sadness and frustration that inhabits children when such a life-altering event occurs.
If you want to just feel good, have a few chuckles and watch as an assortment of beautiful food is prepared, No Reservations is the movie for you. If you are looking for any depth or surprises, please look elsewhere. | Matthew F. Newlin