'Hundred-Foot Journey': French and Indian Wars

Posted: August 08, 2014

WHEN INDIAN AND French cooks collide in the "The Hundred-Foot Journey," there are fireworks.

Seriously. Fireworks. Every five minutes. Director Lasse Hallstrom uses them like Lawrence Welk used bubbles, as a kind of mood-enhancer when mere schmaltz is not enough.

Hallstrom is known for movies of enchantment ("Cider House Rules," "Chocolat") and though he crafts some nice moments in "The Hundred-Foot Journey," his normally light touch gives way at times to a heavy hand, and full-on pyrotechnics (which given the Walt Disney imprimatur, may be Magic Kingdom product placement).

Which he probably didn't need, given the cast. Om Puri stars as a restaurateur who moves his family from Mumbai to rural France, where his handsome and culinarily talented son (Manish Dayal) becomes the star attraction at their new provincial establishment.

Across the street is a proper French restaurant, headed by an austere perfectionist (Helen Mirren) always looking for another star in the Michelin guide. The plot hinges on the comic battle that develops after she perceives the new restaurant as a business threat, though that doesn't make much sense, since hers is a tourist destination and Puri's new place caters to locals.

No matter, we get the "Chocolat" interplay among food, culture and character. Puri and Mirren have great fun feuding, Dayal's character falls in love with a pretty French sous chef (Charlotte Le Bon). The movie gets slightly more serious as the plot trumps up some anti-immigrant incidents, but this is mostly a transparent device to bring out everyone's inner goodness, and to nudge the story along.

So it's predictable but digestible. Hallstrom is always sincere, even in sugary moments.

"Journey," though, has some story problems. As it moves naturally into a story about friendship (Puri and Mirren) and romance (Dayal and Le Bon), it gets bogged down in a muddled third act that finds the rising star chef recruited to a fancy restaurant in Paris, delaying and extending the movie's natural denouement.

A smaller portion would have helped.

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