CHEF: Myriad loving close-ups of gorgeous edibles

When you go to a themed film, like No Reservations (2007) or, here, Chef, expect to race out of the film famished for lots of delicious dining.  Or Mexican.  If it’s not quite fair to call myriad loving close-ups of gorgeous and sapid edibles “food porn,” at some point, it’s hard not to start lusting for a taste of these on-screen demos for much of the film.  Goes to the same brain centers as sex – without triggering the anticipatory guilt.

The plot of the comedy is, uh, caloric.  Due to artistic differences with his restaurant maestro restaurateur (Dustin Hoffman as a stubborn owner-shmendrik), Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) loses his longtime California restaurant.  Reviews have devastated him, and he goes online unwittingly, excoriating the food critic who has downgraded him to two stars (Oliver Platt as the baleful food critic, proving that even harsh roles are no match for the likes of this always likable star).  Prompted by his stunning ex-wife, Inez, played by Sofia Vergara in a toned-down version of her usual self, and assisted by his 10-year-old son Percy, and his sous-sous-chef former associate John Leguizamo, Carl starts up a food truck specializing in authentic Cuban bocas in an effort to be his own man, reboot his creative premises, and show us the sunny American South while trying to cobble back together his relationship with his son and, maybe, ex-wife.

A big bunch of gratefully seen actors are scattered through the two hours: a wonderfully micro-modulated ScarJo (brunette and tatted for this role as maître d’ here); a hard-to-ID Amy Sedaris, always amusing; hardly there ex-husband #2 of Inez/Vergara, Robert Downey, Jr., idiosyncratic and loopy as usual; the ever-fun Bobby Cannavale as a sous-chef taking over when Caster is forced to leave his kitchen; and newcomer Emjay Anthony, as Percy, Caster's and Vergara’s son.

Again, as in several recent films calling themselves comedies, the net, and in particular messaging and Twitter, play a larger role than many of the principles.  Twitter brings Casper down, as it goes viral with his fusillade against critics and the way they dump on the hard work of creative artistes – and later, as he inaugurates his food truck with Tex-Mex-Cuban specialties, it brings him up, with thousands of hungry apparently drawn to the dervish fast-fooders from judiciously tweeted words and pics by the tech-savvy Percy.

Aside from slightly slow pacing, in general the film skips along between courses, harmless, calorific, and chewy enough.  We get a brief glimpse of the Big Easy, Austin, and Miami’s tony South Beach, as well as bikini-claddeds in Southern California.  As the film rolls on, the somewhat portly Jon Favreau uncannily evokes the wonderful, prematurely departed James Gandolfini in both looks and manner. That’s not a bad thing.

Chef is light fare, easy to digest, not hard on the eyes, good for food-ogling and a few empathic laughs.  Quintessentially American entertainment. Deep thoughts?  Profound insights?  Not for the food truck, thanks.  Do fat, inauspicious shvitzers like Carl Casper get to have affairs with the likes of maître d’ Scarlett Johansson, and have ex-wives like Vergara?  Only in Woody Allen fantasy scenarios and similar American comedies.

Good date movie, though, especially if you do dinner afterward.