After a dozen courses of The Hundred-Foot Journey's innocuous food porn, reach for Tums 

Journey to the Middle of the Brow

Journey to the Middle of the Brow

The Hundred-Foot Journey is yet another movie this year determined to make audiences salivate with its exquisite shots of food porn. Based on Richard C. Morais’s 2010 novel, the movie is basically a showdown between French and Indian cuisine, as an Indian family (led by Om Puri’s bullheaded Papa) comes to a sleepy, scenic French town and opens an Indian restaurant there. This definitely irks Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, tacking on a French accent), an ornery proprietress whose hoity-toity eatery is just across the street.

A farcical war between the two stubborn-ass (but still lovable!) restaurateurs takes up most of the first hour, only to be nipped in the bud when Hassan (Manish Dayal), Papa’s son and his restaurant’s star chef, gets his hands burned after Mallory’s chef gets some dudes to firebomb the place. Mallory takes Hassan under her wing, having him cook in her kitchen once she realizes the kid has a gift for inventive culinary artistry.

Once again, director/professional Nicholas Sparks adapter Lasse Hallstrom, who made stomachs growl with the Oscar-nominated yet utterly forgettable Chocolat in 2000, finds another much-loved novel to bring to the screen. (You can thank producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg for passing it along to him.) The director evidently wants to maintain an adorable, heartwarming tone, even as he backs up the movie's kitchen with wall-to-wall dishes meant to leave foodies moist in their seats.

But you immediately get the sense that Hallstrom is more intent on making everything look gorgeous and ethereal — the entire J.J. Abrams filmography has fewer lens flares — than on keeping the story in clear focus. The plot meanders all over the place, which fans of the book may have suspected was coming. Granted, Hallstrom gets screenwriter Steven Knight (Locke, Eastern Promises) to heavily compress the story, keeping the timeline to a tight minimum (the book spans years) while either dumping or dwindling major characters, losing much of the moribund tone that sapped the book’s second half, and even keeping a couple of main characters alive.

Even so, the movie still seems unwieldy and overstuffed from trying to pack in so damn much: It's so strewn with incidents and characters that it comes across as silly when it means to be sincere. If it's a delightful, mouth-watering, tidily made movie about a chef’s journey of self-discovery you're looking for, I'd recommend you check out Jon Favreau’s Chef if you haven’t already. 

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