No Reservations, based on the 2001 German film Mostly Martha (Bella Martha), could more aptly be titled ‘Kitchen Closed’. Although there are occasional moments when a hint of charm almost sneaks through, the wooden performance of lead Catherine Zeta-Jones consigns this to the ‘only if desperate’ bin.
Kate is the successful head chef of a flash New York eatery, who struggles with all the stereotypical control-freak traits usually assigned to such characters in scripts lacking imagination. She works hard, and has to get therapy to help her control her anger at the rare customer who finds fault with her creations. When her sister dies and leaves her nine-year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) in her charge, Kate must face the loss of control of her finely tuned lifestyle and the challenge she sees in the employment of new sous chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart).
What follows this set-up is a formulaic rendition of all the usual clichés, never once demonstrating an original idea. One wonders who will find the outcomes surprising? Kate and Nick bicker, then a spark of romance lights up, before further bickering and the inevitable reconciliation. Zoe’s loss is given minimal energy with its treatment best described as trite. And in the end, everything turns out for the best.
Zeta-Jones could best be compared to one of Kate’s most frivolous gustatory extravagances – while she looks good from a distance, there is so little substance to her performance that she can never truly satisfy. Her ponderous turn drags down those of Eckhart and Breslin, who are both fair but never get the opportunity to build on the scattered moments that do succeed due to the negative presence of Zeta-Jones. A black hole would allow more of the other stars’ light to shine out. Eckhart and Breslin soldier on in spite of it all, and when left alone they make occasional scenes worthwhile, but there are never the moving sequences that are promised.
Shot with an unhealthy prevalence of blurred slo-mo to indicate the emotive moments the audience simply mustn’t miss, only the kitchen sequences work as they should. Scenes drag when they should be snappy, and story threads dangle without a sense of direction – except that this is something we’ve all seen before, so we know where it will go.
No Reservations is a disappointing waste of the talent of the two co-stars and another example of why style doesn’t equal substance. By all accounts Mostly Martha was a far better film, and those who can be bothered should perhaps try to source that film rather than waste their energy on this.Rating: