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Published: Friday, 7/27/2007

Movie review: No Reservations ***

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE PEACH SECTION EDITOR

No Reservations is the kind of chick flick that most men won't mind seeing.

For one thing, it has Catherine Zeta-Jones. For another, it has food.

And both are exquisite.

Based on the 2002 German film Mostly Martha by Sandra Nettelbeck, Carol Fuchs' new screenplay shifts the action from Germany to New York City, where a workaholic chef named Kate (Zeta-Jones) rules the kitchen of a chic little restaurant.

Kate is so controlling and narrowly focused that the restaurant's owner, Paula (Patricia Clarkson), has threatened to fire her unless she goes to a therapist. But instead of talking to said therapist, she cooks for him. It's the only thing she feels comfortable doing.

Kate's clockwork life is thrown into disarray when her beloved sister is killed in a car accident, and Kate becomes guardian to her 9-year-old niece (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin). Not only does Kate not have time to grieve, she has no idea how to take care of a grieving child. She turns to food, cooking all her specialties for Zoe, who takes one look at them and refuses to eat.

Then there are the lifestyle differences. Kate is used to getting up at 4:30 a.m. to be at the fish market when it opens, picking out the seafood that she and her staff will prepare that night. She goes to work early to set the specials and cook them for the rest of the staff before the restaurant opens, then she gets home late. This doesn't exactly fit in with the schedule of a school-age child.

To top it all off, while Kate was gone, tending to the details of her sister's death, Paula hired a sous chef, Nick (Aaron Eckhart), as Kate's assistant. Kate is outraged.

"You hired a chef from an Italian restaurant, and I'm the one who needs therapy?" she rails.

In truth, Kate has run headlong into the chaos of life, something she just can't control.

Nick turns out to be a good cook and a thoroughly nice guy. He starts winning Kate over by assuring her he doesn't want her job (which she really doesn't believe), then getting Zoe to eat.

I'm not giving anything away here. It's pretty obvious where No Reservations is heading from the moment Kate meets Nick. But it's the journey, not necessarily the ending, that's satisfying.

Zeta-Jones, who in interviews has cheerfully admitted she can't cook a bit, is believable as the paranoid chef whose reserve melts a drop at a time. She worked in a restaurant for several weeks before filming started, and she picked up the rhythm of a busy kitchen. In her cooking scenes, she's generally shown finishing her finest creations - swirling raspberry sauce over a chocolate dessert, artistically placing herbs on the scallops - and while foodies may have the background to criticize her performance, it works the rest of us.

Eckhart, who played essentially the same character in Erin Brockovich (he was Erin's biker neighbor/lover who looked after the kids), is a real charmer, winning over the audience as he wins over the restaurant's staff, then Zoe, then ultimately Kate.

Breslin, who took over my "favorite child performer" category when Elijah Wood and Haley Joel Osment grew up, hits most of the right notes as she goes through the grieving process and begins to play matchmaker.

No Reservations is a combination of fantasy (New York is too clean; Kate's apartment is spacious), romance, and cliches, but it's an appealing combination, thanks to the likable cast.

The gourmet meals may be chic, but the movie, at heart, is strictly comfort food for the viewer's soul.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com or 419-724-6130.



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