No Reservations Scott Hicks

No Reservations Scott Hicks
For a film set in the rarefied arena of New York’s finest of fine dining, where there is no room for pedestrian convention, it’s ironic that director Scott Hicks’s (Shine) formulaic approach to the genre of romantic comedy actually works. Credit is due in large part to the strong performances and the chemistry of the cast that take such a tired premise and knead it into something palatable.

Said lame premise: a driven, type-A professional is suddenly saddled with sole guardianship of a young relative, turning both their worlds upside-down for a time, only to end up a better person for the experience. No Reservations is a textbook example of this formula. Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a top chef in NYC, who lives her life like she runs her kitchen: with steely focus and a clinical intensity that garners both intimidation and admiration from those around her. Kate’s single mom sister takes an unexpected dirt nap in the first ten minutes of the film, willing Kate custody of her ten-year-old daughter — ladies and gentleman, Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin!

Kate reluctantly takes a leave from her cherished kitchen, only to come back and find that her temporary replacement (Thank You for Smoking’s Aaron Ekhart) has won the hearts of her staff with his fun and irreverent style. If you’re ever in doubt of just how fun and irreverent Ekhart’s Nick really is, look no further than his whacky orange Crocks.

This is pretty much Catherine Zeta-Jones’s film; she’s traded in her fencing foil for a ten-inch paddle whisk, which she deftly handles — must be because her wrist and forearm muscles are still well toned from all that maddening jazz-handing in her Oscar-winning role in Chicago. But here, Zeta-Jones gives a surprisingly understated performance; she is convincing in her conflict between love, loss and new responsibilities. Breslin is very good as well in her portrayal of an orphan hot off the presses. She can cry on a dime and doesn’t overplay the tooth-achingly sentimental stuff the screenwriters keep shovelling her way.

However, the real reason this film works is because of the chemistry between the cast. Zeta-Jones and Ekhart’s connection on screen seems believable, if a bit saccharine. Zeta-Jones and Breslin play well off each other also, with their awkward efforts to forge a meaningful relationship.

This film is probably best rented — there are no explosions or mind-blowing cinematography to warrant a big screen experience. Wait for the DVD, grab a bottle of Pinot Noir, toss a plate of pan seared foie gras with dungeness crab stuffed potatoes on your TV table, and the rest will look after itself. (Warner)