Two things about No Reservations, right here at the top, just to get them out of the way. They relate to each other and I think it’s important they both get mentioned, in order: first, this isn’t a bad film… it’s just not a very good one and second, if you want to know everything, and I mean everything important, that happens in this film, watch the trailer. Because if you’ve seen the trailer, then there are no surprises in the 105 minutes you’re going to spend in the theater. Personally, I find that a little troublesome because it takes a movie which could have been a cute, romantic comedy and turns it into a by-the-numbers rehash of every cliché in the book. As icing on the cake, No Reservations isn’t even original in its unorginality – it’s a remake of the 2002 German filmMostly Martha.
In the American version, Catherine Zeta-Jones is Kate, an uptight New York chef who doesn’t understand why she’s in therapy, except the owner of the restaurant she cooks in makes her go. And honestly, we don’t understand why she’s there, either. Yes, she’s uptight and anal-retentive and a bit nasty when patrons don’t like her food, but then, so are half the contestants on Bravos “Top Chef” and no one is sending them to a shrink. The only reason we know she’s not handling the pressure of day-to-day life is because she doesn’t want to take too much time off from her job, not even to spend it with her sister and niece who are driving in for a visit. Of course, in the great tradition of films like Raising Helen and Baby Boom, there’s a car wreck, the sister dies and suddenly, single, working girl Kate is mother of a precocious little girl named Zoe (Abigail Breslin). We know she’s going to screw it up because we’ve seen it before (there’s that pesky trailer again). True, while the trailer let’s us know exactly how precocious Zoe is (when one is late, she mutters “men” under her breath) what it doesn’t tell us is how manipulative she is, playing the I’ve-been-abandoned-by-my-dead-mother card every time she doesn’t get what she wants. Sad really.
Naturally, Kate and Zoe butt heads a little bit (not a lot and for no organic reason) and it’s up to Nick (Aaron Eckhart, who is better than this role), the sous chef brought in to help out in the kitchen, to break through to both of them and show them that a little crazy in their lives is just what they need.
I’m not going to tell you how it ends (the films does a fine job of that, telegraphing the ending about half-way through) but suffice to say, there are no major twists, turns or surprises. Okay, to be fair, there is one weird moment at Zoe’s school where the principle threatens to call child protective services that comes out of left field – and is never dealt with again. This is the biggest problem with the whole shebang: nothing is ever dealt with. Everything that happens to the characters happens out of plot necessity, not out of any type of organic story-telling. We are told everything, from how the characters are supposed to feel to how they should be reacting to events and never see them react naturally, which surprises me considering director Scott Hicks was the man behind Shine. That said, the script is where the problem is and first timer Carol Fuchs really doesn’t seem to be up to the task.
Like I said at the top, it’s not that this is a bad film – there would have to be more thought put in, more grandiose plans, for it to fail – no, it’s just not a good film because that also would have taken a little more thought and a little more care.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)