Are you a fan of cooking challenge shows? Do you find yourself drawn to those shows starring Gordon Ramsey, particularly the ones where he flies off the handle at his crew? Then Burnt – which Ramsey helped produce – is the big-screen event for you. For the rest of us, Burnt is a slog of a film that continues the decade-plus trend of saying great chefs are also complete and total assholes with no social skills whatsoever.
Bradley Cooper stars as Adam Jones, a once-hot chef from America whose career came to a halt three years prior in Paris, when he was forced out of his restaurant for reasons that are vaguely hinted at here. The hints amount to a combination of his prickly behavior and a ton of drugs. The film opens with Adam paying penance, by working in New Orleans with a goal of shucking a million oysters. Once he reaches that goal, he heads back to Europe, but this time to London. His new goal: to earn a third Michelin star. To get there, he manages to get control of the restaurant in the Langham Hotel from his former maître d’ Tony (Daniel Brühl) and remake it to his specifications. He brings in other former co-workers to help, along with someone new – Helene (Sienna Miller), who Adam finds working in an Italian restaurant. Adam’s old Parisian colleagues aren’t the only ones now present in London, though; reminders of his disastrous run there begin to pop up in London, threatening to undo Adam.
Before I get into other issues with the film, I want to note something. The script for Burnt comes from Steven Knight, who was also responsible for last year’s The Hundred-Foot Journey. Like that film, Burnt revolves around a character’s pursuit of a third Michelin star. It’s something so specific, and one wonders why Knight couldn’t come up with something a tad different for one of the films.
Burnt has bigger issues than Knight’s Michelin star obsession, though. Chief among them is a story that lacks proper momentum. Burnt moves too quickly, too easily. Adam is a force of nature, blowing by and through anyone in his way. Considering the film wants to create a dramatic arc that shows something resembling a change in Adam, there’s nowhere near enough here to show something that might actually prompt a change. Instead, Burnt goes heavy on the exposition.
The film isn’t helped by the degree to which Adam is insufferable. Not even Bradley Cooper’s usual charm can make Adam likable, and that’s before some of the more outrageous moments in the film. One sequence in particular – a post-opening scene in the kitchen involving Adam, Helene, and the rest of the staff – actually pushes Adam so far beyond insufferable that it was hard not to wish Adam would receive some sort of grand comeuppance. A smarter approach may have been to at least let Adam be a monster from beginning to end. But Burnt wants some sort of emotional payoff, and its ending feels disconnected from what came before.