The best thing going for Bradley Cooper’s character in “Burnt” are his bright blue eyes. His Adam Jones is apparently a gifted chef, but with his arrogant persona and penchant for loud outbursts, it hardly seems worth finding out, even despite those baby blues.
Jones is so unlikeable that spending 100 minutes with him on screen is as unpleasant as languishing over a bad meal — you just want to kind of walk away and find something better. “Burnt” is further hampered by narrative loose ends, clunky, explanatory dialogue, and a love interest (Siena Miller) who behaves as no real woman would.
Written by Steven Knight (“Pawn Sacrifice”) and directed by John Wells (“August: Osage County”), “Burnt” follows Jones’ efforts to restore his cooking career after a bout of bad behavior and return to Michelin Star status.
The film opens with the embattled chef shucking oysters in New Orleans. The job is a penance, Cooper’s Jones explains in voiceover: He was once a promising young chef with the opportunity to run his mentor’s restaurant, only to squander his future with drugs, infidelity and an inflated sense of importance.
Now sober and with renewed focus, Jones heads to London to reconnect with former colleagues and strong-arm them into working with him.
He runs into Michel (Omar Sy), who awkwardly explains to Jones exactly how he wronged him when they worked together years ago in Paris (don’t they both know this already?). Jones meets up with restaurant critic Simone (Uma Thurman), who oddly tells him that she slept with him even though she is a lesbian. Again, wouldn’t they each already know this? Saying it aloud for the benefit of the audience feels odd and inauthentic. The performances are honest enough. It’s just that people who know each other don’t talk this way.
Next, Jones works over another former friend, celebrated London maître d’ Tony (Daniel Brühl), and monopolizes his restaurant. The move seems even more egregious when it becomes clear, through sessions with an unethical therapist (Emma Thompson), that Jones took advantage of Tony’s romantic feelings for him.
Most unrealistic, though, is Miller’s character, Helene. Introduced as a talented up-and-coming chef and devoted single mother who works at a competing restaurant, Helene can tell Jones is a jerk as soon as she meets him, yet she’s lured to his kitchen by a much bigger salary. That part makes sense. But despite Jones yelling at her, belittling her skills, grabbing her by her (alluringly loose) tank top and ditching her for another woman at a party he invited her to, Helene suddenly forgets her parental responsibilities and falls for him. Miller plays the role sincerely, but come on. Those pretty eyes aren’t THAT magical.
Cooper does what he can with Jones, but there’s no saving this guy from his own miserable personality.
In its favor, the food looks good in “Burnt.” The beets are bright, the roe roundly appealing. A tomato salad looks like a still-life portrait. The precision and beauty of a five-star meal is an art whose creation clearly has its own rhythm and drama.
But unless you also want a tremendous side of ego and hearty helping of yelling, “Burnt” may be a dish to skip.