A low-cal "Ratatouille" sans rats, "Le Chef" is vaguely reassuring proof that the French can make comedies as silly as ours -- which, of course, they do, though the films usually don't make it onto the menu here. (Do not confuse this film with Jon Favreau's "Chef.") And they generally don't have Jean Reno, who is far better known for playing the heavy in the likes of "The Da Vinci Code" and "Leon: The Professional" than for making such wacky bonbons as "Les Visiteurs," or for voicing the cartoon character Le Frog in "Flushed Away."
However you slice it, Reno is generally as comforting as a pâté de campagne (aka meatloaf).
Alas, in "Le Chef," the actor plays Alexandre Legarde, a chef de cuisine who has lorded it over the Parisian restaurant scene for years with his three-star eatery but is now under siege by such trends as molecular gastronomy and an owner who is insisting he use cheaper ingredients.
In desperation -- if he loses a star, he loses his job -- Alexandre brings in Jacky (Michael Youn), a genius in the kitchen and a source of indigestion everywhere else. "Le Chef" thus becomes an odd-couple farce replete with the heady aroma of comedic desperation and the cringeworthiness of a Jerry Lewis movie.
Director Daniel Cohen, who has many more credits to his name as an actor ("Kings & Queen"), applies the guillotine to the pretensions of modern foodie-ism and cheerleads for the classic virtues of French gastronomy. He's also responsible for one particularly galling scene in which his stars imitate obnoxious Japanese businessmen. It's not exactly Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," but it cries out for Le Rolaids.
PLOT A venerable Parisian chef feels youth -- and his restaurant's owner -- breathing down his neck.
RATING PG-13 (language)
CAST Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue
BOTTOM LINE As annoying as it is comic, but it does have the wonderful Jean Reno as a digestif. (In French with English subtitles)