Holy Molecular Gastronomy! A mouth-watering foodie movie that resembles director Lasse Hallstrom's previously delicious "Chocolat," "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is a culture clash premise that's as predictable as a chain-restaurant meal.
The sumptuous food is the real star, and for anyone who has watched a cooking show, all that's missing is the aroma. It's cutthroat kitchen time when haute cuisine at a Michelin one-star restaurant is threatened by the Indian upstarts across the street.
Their ethnic Maison Mumbai has raised the ire of mean Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and her snooty chef de cuisine at Le Saule Pleureur. Fuming about the fragrant curry 100 feet away, they wage a food fight royale, with the town mayor in the middle.
The Indians were displaced after political dissidents torched their restaurant in their homeland, then they tried London for a year. A van breakdown in the French countryside led them to a picturesque village and an opportunity to renovate kitchen space across from the revered gourmet hot spot.
Son Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an inspired cook hungry to learn all that he can regarding techniques. Devouring cookbooks, he is determined to master classic French sauces while serving up his family's tasty traditional dishes.
He is mentored, for a time, by Marguerite (Charlotte LeBon), the sous chef across the street. But when he becomes serious competition, she freezes him out.
Through his innovative fusion of Indian spices, Hassan's talents are recognized, and lead him on the path to chef super-stardom.
Thus the dilemma: Can gifted chefs be happy adding liquid nitrogen to baby vegetables at a Michelin two-star restaurant? What culinary paradise can nurture his bliss?
Speaking with a flawless French accent, Dame Helen Mirren is her customary grand self, and she spars well with Bollywood veteran Om Puri as stubborn Papa, forging ahead to give his family a better life.
Racism, of course, is ugly, and Mirren's ice queen character is so harsh that subtlety is nowhere to be found. Her overdue change of heart is a welcome relief, and changes the plot's direction.
The breakthrough performance of Manish Dayal as hungry Hassan is the triumph here. He sincerely conveys his character's drive and passion for food, and has terrific chemistry with luminous Charlotte Le Bon's Marguerite.
Despite blatant button-pushing to elicit our emotions, softie Hallstrom presents a sweet story with many entertaining elements.
However, there are no surprises at any juncture. It's a comfortable, uplifting, palatable plot.
Steven Knight, who wrote the mesmerizing Tom Hardy tour-de-force "Locke," adapted Richard Morais' bestseller, and has reduced stereotypes to basics. For a movie that celebrates flavor, it has little heat.
But the burgeoning dual romances are appealing.
Everything looks appetizing, too, from a rainbow of bell peppers to the treasured stash of mom's pungent spices. Whisking an egg never looked so good.
What Doesn't Work
Did we need producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey pleading with us to enjoy this cinematic feast? Superfluous puffery that did the movie no favors.
Yes, the ingredients come together, but in a manipulative way. As long as you know what's on this plate, the presentation won't spoil it.
3 stars out of 4
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon
Rated: PG for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality