Small details can make a meal or a movie, and No Reservations, a remake of the 2001 German film Mostly Martha, at least deserves credit for getting some of the details right. Playing a therapist to Catherine Zeta-Jones' uptight, perfectionist master chef, Bob Balaban has a scene in which he expertly balances professional dignity with a near-drooling desire to tear into one of Zeta-Jones' exquisitely prepared seafood dishes. As Zeta-Jones' free-spirited sous chef/possible romantic partner, Aaron Eckhart scores a delightful introduction, infectiously singing opera in the kitchen while stomping around in a pair of undignified Crocs.
But sometimes the details offset what's missing, like a fancy piece of garnish next to a mundane meal. And No Reservations is pretty much the dramatic equivalent of a burger and fries, however pretty the presentation. Even viewers unfamiliar with the source material—which already felt like a conventional Hollywood drama with subtitles—will likely feel a shudder of recognition once the plot clicks into place. Zeta-Jones runs a tough kitchen, and she finds little time for romance, or even reflection, in her time apart from work. Her rigorous routine gets a jolt, however, when her sister dies in a car accident, leaving Zeta-Jones to care for her young niece (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin, doing a variation on her kicked-puppy routine). Can she surrender control and open her heart long enough to face her new responsibilities and maybe even a romance with Eckhart?
There's no question how No Reservations will end, which would be just fine if the film made getting there even slightly pleasurable. Sadly, the way director Scott Hicks (Shine, Hearts In Atlantis) lovingly photographs his star doesn't hide the fact that her character's little more than a collection of predictable tics. But at least she's a character. Eckhart is winning as usual, but he can only do so much as the grown-up male version of the magic pixie girls that have run roughshod over our movie romances since Garden State. He has no real life of his own, just a need to heal others. If only his magic worked on the film, we might have been spared groaningly hokey lines like "I wish there was a cookbook for life." Did Rachael Ray do an uncredited rewrite?