No Reservations
PG
Entertainment: +2
Acceptability: +1/2

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson. Written by Carol Fuchs, based on the original screenplay entitled "Mostly Martha" by Sandra Nettelbeck. Directed by Scott Hicks.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Master chef Kate Armstrong has her perfectionist nature put to the test when she inherits her nine-year-old niece Zoe (her single mother is killed in a car crash), while contending with a brash new sous-chef who joins her staff. High-spirited and freewheeling, Nick Palmer couldnt be more different from Kate, yet the chemistry between them is undeniable. Rivalry becomes romance, but Kate will have to learn to express herself beyond the realm of her kitchen if she wants to connect with Zoe and find true happiness with Nick.

PREVIEW REVIEW: I call it an uneven production because it contains some positives, but with an equal amount of negative. The good: the actors. Ms. Zeta-Jones is lovely, Mr. Eckhart is suitably antic, and little Abigail Breslin is touching. Also, no car chases and nothing blows up, (a nice change of pace).

Most films avoid scenes with people eating, let alone the making of meals. Thats a shame as that communal activity is both esthetic and theraputic. Indeed, I suspect God gave the world music and food in order to unite us. Well, the action here revolves around a hoiti toiti resturant, where we see exotic dishes being conjured while the relationships simmer. All thats good.

Alas, the negatives are just as annoying as Catherine and the food are sumptuous. First, the filmmaker gets a case of the cutes. It becomes too saccharine, especially when Aunt Kate and little Zoe have a pillow fight. Suddenly, my teeth began to ache. Added to this shortcoming, the film is also predictable. Oh, is it predictable. Midway through the film, I uttered the name of the resturant the lead twosome would eventually own. And I was right.

There are three things that annoy me most in todays comedies, each of which has been incorporated into this production. One is the presence of the hand-hand camera, a technique that began in action films to make a scene more frantic. Now, it is just a gimmick. Next, is my distaste for the use of comic montages. If the film is about dating, we get a montage with funny wannabe suiters. If its about running a resturant, the montage is about hiring funny wannabe chefs. And thirdly, theres no easier way to keep the rating out of G territory than to throw in either the f-bomb or profane Gods name. Here, the choice was to have a minor character use a profanity. Shes a waitress, studying to do an acting scene while standing in the food locker. Fumbling with the dramatic scene, out comes Gods name followed by a curse. The harshness of the expression changes the mood of a romantic comedy. Or, at one time it did. Now, both film makers and goers are desensitized to its true meaning.

There are some funny moments, it is diverting, and director Scott Hicks (Snow Falling on Cedars, Shine) mixes the ingredients of tragedy and comedy together sufficently, but everything seems lightweight, its premise overshadowed by candied superficiality. Ultimately, the film is like tiramisu with too much coffee liqueur just too sweet.

For better food films, try these video alternatives: Eat Drink Man Woman. This Chinese film takes as much care in developing the characters and their struggles as it does with its depiction of culinary delights. It is an insightful look into the importance of sex, religion, honor and, yes, food. And in the film, one of the sisters has become a born-again Christian. While she is a bit overzealous, she is never ridiculed. She is sincere in her beliefs and her family, though not yet taking that spiritual path, respects her choice. Caution, Eat, Drink, Man, Woman is rated R.

If you would rather not support an R-rated movie, allow me to suggest: Babettes Feast. This 1987 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film centers around two devout Danish sisters who show kindness to a homeless woman. When she wins a lottery, the woman shares her good fortune in a most lavish manner. Based on a short story by Isak Dinessen, it is a beautiful tale of devotion and sacrifice, as well as a healing parable where quarreling friends and acquaintances are brought together once they shed their pious austerity. The film urges us not to hide behind our religion, but to put it into action.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Warner Bros.

Summary
Crude Language: A couple of crude sexual innuendos, but generally, the filmmaker avoids crudity.
Obscene Language: I caught no obscenity.
Profanity: One profane use of Gods name.
Violence: We learn of a relatives death in a car crash, but do not see the tragedy.
Sexual Intercourse: One implied sexual situation.
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: A couple of crude sexual innuendos.
Drug Abuse: Some wine drinking with dinner.
Other: None
Running Time: 90 minutes
Intended Audience: Older Teens and Adults

Copyright Preview Family Movie Review (www.previeoOnline.org)