Aaron Eckhart and Catherine Zeta-Jones are chefs in love in "No Reservations," a remake of the German comedy "Mostly Martha." (Warner Bros. Pictures)
With crass romantic comedies all the rage, "No Reservations" may strike some as an old-fashioned chick flick. Beautiful people with testy chemistry meet and may (or may not, hah!) fall for each other.
Even with the decidely cosmopolitan Catherine Zeta-Jones giving a nice turn as an executive chef in a happening Manhattan restaurant, there's something home-cooked about this remake of the German romantic comedy "Mostly Martha."
Make that neo-home cooked. Because director Scott Hicks and screenwriter Carol Fuchs gently mix some modern desires into their flavorful amuse-bouche. "No Reservations" may not be grand eats, but it is tasty.
Kate's life is forever altered when she becomes stand-in mother to her sister's daughter.
A workaholic, she takes refuge in her restaurant, Bleecker 22. Cooking and conducting a bustling kitchen has shaped her identity so much that when she visits her therapist (Bob Balaban), she doesn't talk about life, she talks about menus. She even brings an insulated tote with meals of scallops and saffron sauce.
Kate didn't become "Chef" - as her staff calls her - by being an underachiever.
Abigail Breslin, who yearned so wonderfully for Little Miss Sunshine glory, plays youngster Zoe.
While Zoe is more emotionally astute than her aunt, the movie doesn't overplay her awareness. And Hicks seizes opportunities to celebrate Breslin's vivacious presence. He protects her from being that grating spectacle: a child actor portraying a precocious child.
A mourning niece would be enough of a challenge to an ordered life. But when Bleecker 22's owner, Paula, played with a sharp biz vibe by Patricia Clarkson, finally gets her chef to take time off, she brings in another culinary whiz.
Aaron Eckhart's Nick is personable, gifted and an enlivening presence in a high-strung workplace. He plays opera CDs; gets little girls who won't take a bite of their aunt's cuisine to spin pasta round a fork and eat it with abandon. He's the playful Dad to Kate's taskmaster Mom.
Throughout "No Reservations," less functions as more. Nick may listen to opera but the movie is virtually aria-free.
Tensions we've grown used to in the romantic comedy set-up aren't overplayed. Zoe is blue but Kate isn't treated as a dope fumbling a hot potato. She tries to rise to the sad occasion.
Nick charms. But he's easy, not superior. His energy complements Kate's supercharged approach.
The film's mood feels less like restraint than Hick's trust in his audience. When fairly familiar hurdles come, we appreciate more than resent them.
Paula tweaks Nick and Kate's ambitions and vulnerabilities . She's not underhanded, exactly. She's a businesswoman. What proprietor wouldn't be tempted by a serenity that comes with foodie fanfare?
This is the Eckhart fans have been hoping for. The versatile actor has handled heftier roles well ("In the Company of Men," "Erin Brockovich"). But here, on a shaggy smile riding above that cleft chin, float plenty of fine fantasies about handsome, confident and, yes, sensitive guys.
There's a reason Nick cooks and drives a pick-up (in Manhattan, no less). He is the dish women crave after the cheese-doodle boys of arrested romantic comedies grow stale.
PG for some sensuality and language|1 hour, 44 minutes|ROMANTIC COMEDY| Directed by Scott Hicks; written by
Carol Fuchs based on Sandra Nettelbeck's screenplay; photography by Stuart Dryburgh; starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Bob Balaban |Opens today at area theaters.