No Reservations

(2007) ** 1/2 Pg
105 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Director: Scott Hicks. Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Wade.

For those who have been waiting for Philip Glass to score a pillow fight, your wait is over! Glass has composed the score for the romantic dramedy No Reservations, which has the dubious distinction of conspiring with the respected composer to make him seem ordinary. And let's face it: No Reservations is a very ordinary Hollywood movie. It's an American remake—of Mostly Martha, a mostly forgotten German-Italian import—and it traffics in so-sad tragedy and so-heartwarming bonds of love.

The third—and most ordinary—American feature by Aussie Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars, Hearts in Atlantis), No Reservations follows the travails of top chef Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and yep, Kate "strong-arms" everyone who challenges her way. "It's not like I'm controlling or anything," she tells her therapist (Bob Balaban). "I just prefer things to be exactly right." Messy life intrudes when Kate inherits her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) and must contend with Nick (an unnervingly smiley Aaron Eckhart), the "exuberant" new chef in her kitchen. Zoe's emotional need and Nick's annoying romance-novel perfection means Kate will be forced to drop her defenses.

We're asked to swallow a lot of hooey: that great chef Kate constantly gets in tussles with ridiculously dissatisfied customers, that Kate's first instinct would be to serve Zoe dinner with a face (sea bass), that someone like Nick exists. The perfectly calibrated Breslin out-acts the glacial Zeta-Jones, which is a bit embarrassing, and the dialogue can be fromage-y. Try not to retch in your popcorn bag when Kate says, "I wish there was a cookbook for life," and her doc replies, "You know better than anyone: it's the recipes you create yourself that are the best."

Still, Mostly Martha effectively benefits from the Hollywood upgrade, which at least places the obvious story in its natural habitat. With movie stars to get butts in seats, glossy cinematography, and pop-music implants to provide artificial lift to the cutesy plot developments, No Reservations will be sowing smiles in malls all across America. Though it's a fantasy, it's mostly harmless (yes, it implies that a man and a child are requisites for a woman's happiness, but that "ordinary" belief seems fare game for this ordinary movie). For a flick set in a haute-cuisine restaurant, No Reservations is ironically flavorless, but satisfies a basic hunger. It's a great big cheeseburger of a movie or, in other words, nice, heart-y fare.

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