Directed by Scott Hicks. Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Jenny Wade, Bob Balaban, Lily Rabe. (2007, PG, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 27, 2007
Aussie director Hicks helmed the 1996 Oscar-winning meltdown-melodrama Shine and hasn't yet recaptured the dotty brilliance of that film (Geoffrey Rush had much to do with it). No Reservations, a nearly note-perfect remake of Sandra Nettelbeck's 2001 German import, doesn't erase the memory of Hicks' odd turn directing the William Goldman-adapted Stephen King misfire Hearts in Atlantis, nor does it come within striking distance, emotionally, of Nettlebeck's original, but that may have more to do with the culturally fraught experience of watching a tautly Teutonic, perfectionist German foodie defrost than any directorial malaise on Hicks' part. Hollywood is and forever has been rife with films about obsessive Americans unraveling for the better in the face of love and death; it's almost always more interesting, if not educational, to view the subject from across the pond, at a safe remove. In Mostly Martha, it turned out those frosty Germans were all gooey on the inside. With No Reservations, it turns out that so is Zeta-Jones, who here plays Kate, the chef at a tony Manhattan restaurant owned by Six Feet Under alumna Clarkson. She's more brio than Brie, this implacable, tempestuous go-getter, so much so that she's been ordered to see a psychiatrist (Balaban) by her boss. As in the original, fate conspires to free this chef from her self-imposed kitchen exile by placing her sister's suddenly orphaned child (Breslin) into her discomfort zone and then, as if that weren't enough to teach one the joys of letting one's angel-hair pasta down, inserting gustatory hunk Eckhart into her beloved kitchen. Eckhart, as incoming kinda-sorta-sous chef Nick, grins way too much for my taste, frankly (the bad aftertaste of In the Company of Men still gnaws at me, though this Nick is neither rat nor Rémy), but he does begin to work in tandem with Kate's niece to free up her range, as well as teach her the real meaning of food-love. No Reservations succeeds as well as it does (kinda sorta) by virtue of Zeta-Jones' performance; she thaws deliciously, despite Eckhart's toothiness, and while No Reservations is no Big Night (or Mostly Martha for that matter), it's also surprisingly winsome in parts, a romantic fable that lingers on the palette of the mind's eye, not despite its familiarity but because of it.