No Reservations / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | July 26, 2007 | Comments ()
What I expected going into No Reservations was a film as pucker-sweet as Dunkin’ Donuts sugar (Fact: The crystalline glint you see in their liquid sugar is actual methamphetamine), a mildly tolerable foodie rom-com somewhere on the spectrum between the horrific Moonstruck and the somewhat palatable Mystic Pizza (no offense to Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate and the rest of you, but a bigger mystery to me than the critical love for Citizen Kane is the universal adoration for Moonstruck, but that’s another review for another day). What I got was something totally unexpected. Not only was No Reservations not even mildly tolerable, it was about as limp and lifeless as a Ron Mexico pit bull shelter. About as exciting as James W. Holsinger’s sex life (or at least his poor wife’s). About as flaccid as Chad Pennington spiral. As titillating as a Hillary Clinton/Elizabeth Dole pillow fight. As thrilling as a Matchbox 20 melody.
It was dull, people. Seriously dull.
If it’d had the slightest bit of oomph, No Reservations might have been simply awful, but as it were, the movie was so deathly listless that it never quite rose to the level of horrid. You can hardly reward a film with negative superlatives if it never puts forth the effort it takes to warrant them. No Reservations just sat, like rotten gazpacho in the back of the fridge, collecting layers of moldy skin, while its two principals, Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart, did nothing no more exciting than age ever-so-slightly and Abigail Breslin inched closer to puberty and, possibly, a future DUI conviction after snorting blow off Freddie Highmore’s ass. Sluggish would be an understatement; No Reservations does a horrible injustice to the word “bland.” Admission tickets to Reservations should come with a disclaimer: “Warning — Frequent and Unexpected Nodding Off May Cause Severe Neck Injury. Watch At Your Own Risk.”
Now, because I’ve run out of ways to insult the film’s irksome banality, I’m left with no choice but to relive the story, the sort of paint-by-numbers plotline you’d expect from a 1-year-old who can neither count nor paint within the lines, but sure loves to smear his poo on the canvas. Having never seen the original movie, Bella Martha, from which No Reservations is remade, I’m not sure which writer I’m supposed to blame — Sandra Nettelbeck, who wrote the German original, or Carol Fuchs, who stitched together Reservations from some bratwurst leftovers. Either way, it’s a complete waste of the cast’s talent, especially Eckhart, who actually managed to survive in Hollywood for this long without selling out to a less-than-mediocre romantic comedy.
The film concerns Kate (Zeta-Jones), an uptight, controlling, career-oriented (which clearly equals “single” in Hollywoodspeak) chef who runs an upscale restaurant in Manhattan. Her life is all meticulously planned out and typically empty for a single woman without child — that is, until her sister dies in a car accident and leaves her daughter (Breslin) under Kate’s care and a sous chef (Eckhart) starts work at her restaurant, giving Kate at least the potential for the husband and kid necessary to make her life complete. Because a single career woman in NYC needs a husband and kid in order to have a fulfilling life — that’s like gospel. I read it in the guidebook to insufferable romantic comedies.
Of course, even the traumatic death of Kate’s sister is glossed over here — the director, Scott Hicks (who directed the equally lifeless Snow Falling on Cedars), doesn’t even bother to extract any false emotion from it — how incompetent and lazy do you have to be to pass over a perfectly good opportunity to at least manipulate the audience’s tear ducts? Why cast Breslin if you’re not going to capitalize on the whole cute-kid-crying her eyes out thing? Surely, the financiers of No Reservations didn’t envision bringing Breslin aboard so that the director could film her staring vacantly at her plush stuffed animals. Right?
After her niece, Zoe, comes to live with her, Kate’s life begins to change in a very dramatic way. For instance, she has to find a babysitter on some nights. And she occasionally has to heat up some frozen fish sticks (on her therapist’s advice), because Zoe doesn’t like fancy foods with the fish heads attached and the eyes staring out at you, you know, like the rest of us do. Fortunately, the sous chef, Nick, who is hired to fill in at Kate’s restaurant while she’s not caring for Zoe, knows exactly how to get a withdrawn preadolescent who just lost her mother to a freak car accident to open up: Spaghetti, of course!
And so, over the course of 6,300 painful seconds, which tick by like seconds on a suicide bomb, Zoe brings Nick and Kate closer together through some ridiculously contrived pizza date and photo booth pictures before they are briefly pulled apart by ego and misunderstanding while Phillip Glass’s overwrought soundtrack bleats and bleats like symphonic sheep taken out back for slaughter. Granted, Eckhart is semi-charming, given what he’s got to work with — he wears a chef shirt, pajama bottoms, those goddamn crocs, and obnoxiously sings opera in the kitchen like Roberto Benigni at an Oscar ceremony, but at least he occasionally breathes some life into No Reservations. But that’s not saying much, when he’s essentially giving CPR to a cinematic manikin.
But what’s most perplexing about the film is that, for 100 minutes, Hicks paces the damn thing with the beat of a retarded metronome, but then rushes the ending together in record time, as if to sneak it past us and usher us out of the theater before we realize what happened. It’s setup for one of those ridiculous airport finales, but it never quite gets there, deciding instead to prematurely throw up the credits and call it a day, which I suppose should make me feel thankful. And I probably would’ve been, if I’d been awake enough to realize it was over.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.