So-called haute cuisine is mercilessly derided in Mark Mylod’s attractively staged satire, which takes place in a restaurant on an island that can only be reached by boat. Rich patrons partake of the artfully prepared meals of master chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who serves up disdainful philosophical tidbits with each course. His customers, who pay more than $1,000 each for a meal, love the fascist mindset as much as the cooking, even when the disdain is directed squarely at them, because they know they are getting a unique experience. On the night in question, they get even more since many of them have been specially selected for this particular menu, which promises to be even more daring than usual.
Screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy offer up a cross section of arrogant 1 percenters, including a haughty food critic (Janet McTeer), a spoiled movie star (John Leguizamo), and a bunch of young, pointedly offensive businessmen, each designed to be a target of the viewer’s enmity in their own special way. In contrast, the wide-eyed foodie, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), seems almost woefully naive about his obsession and is thus the main object of ridicule, but the venom injected into his scenes is diluted by his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is the only person on the receiving end of Slowik’s wares who sees things for what they are, simply because she’s not rich and is here by accident, or so it seems. In fact, when Slowik finds out about her provenance it seems to upset his carefully laid plans, since he has something dastardly in store for this evening’s guests and she doesn’t fit in.
The dark humor is mostly situated in Fiennes’ performance, which is as dry as overcooked pot roast, and for what it’s worth the comedic elements not only dampen much of the film’s horror potential but also its pointed social criticism involving the destruction of nature and the perpetual grinding down of the serving classes. As each course presents new challenges to the assembled palates the viewer may quickly tire of the cleverness, the way a genuinely hungry person would want to get to the main course and be done with all the trivial hors d’ouevres. To belabor the metaphor further, too many layered subtexts make for a movie that ends up being thin gruel.
Opens Nov. 18 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
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