LOS ANGELES, Oct 30, (Agencies): In the past five years, Bradley Cooper has played handsome leading men, a perm-coiffed 1970s cop, a sniper and a rogue raccoon. But playing a chef on a quest for a Michelin star in “Burnt” really turned the heat up on the actor.
“I had a background as a cook, and I thought I knew that world, but it scared me to pull off that level of a chef, and if something scares you, it’s usually a sign that you should do it,” Cooper told Reuters.
In “Burnt,” out in US theaters Friday, Cooper plays Adam Jones, a bad boy culinary genius led astray by the excesses of success. He’s given a chance to redeem himself of his drug-laced past and earn his third Michelin star with his own London restaurant.
To prepare for the role, Cooper, who speaks fluent French and showcases it in the film, spent time with top chefs including Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey and Clare Smyth, the latter with whom Cooper did a service with one night.
The actor said he learned the art of plating food, and recognized how the “chef is a conductor” in a kitchen.
A chef’s quest for three Michelin stars is not like an actor striving for an Oscar, according to Cooper, who has been nominated for four of the honors in the past three years and is earning awards buzz again with this role.
“The Michelin star actually is much more influential than an Oscar,” Cooper said. “The Michelin guide will allow restaurants to sink or swim, they live and die by these stars.”
Unlike Adam Jones, whose fame came at a young age, Cooper had to wait until he was in his mid-30s for his breakout year in 2009 with “The Hangover” franchise. He was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011, earned Oscar nods for “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle” and “American Sniper,” and voiced a leading role in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
At 40, Cooper is just getting into the swing of things. He’s producing CBS’ “Limitless” series based on his 2011 film and wants to direct one day, as well as star in a Western.
“He brings an attention to detail and preparation and intelligence to everything he does,” said “Burnt” director John Wells.
The director added with a laugh that Cooper “has been a really talented actor fighting through how damn good-looking he is for a number of years.”
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 maÓtre d’ Tony (Daniel Br¸hl), 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.
“Burnt,” a Weinstein Company release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language. Running time: 100 minutes. One star out of four.