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No Reservations (2007)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 2/12/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/6/2008

Most successful movies, no matter the subject, contain an element to which the audience can relate. Even the most outlandish fantasy or sci-fi films have a character or plot-point which will ring true with the viewer. These are the things which allow us to make a connection with the movie, and thus be drawn into it. However, the familiar doesn't also guarantee a good movie. No Reservations contains many parts which we recognize -- work, grief, love, family, and most importantly, food. Is this a recipe for success?

Catherine Zeta-Jones stars in No Reservations as Kate, a very successful chef at a small bistro owned by Paula (Patricia Clarkson). Kate is renowned for her cooking, but she can be demanding, stubborn, and rude, thus Paula has ordered her to see a therapist (Bob Balaban). Due to her devotion to her job, Kate has no time for relationships. Tragedy strikes when Kate's sister is killed, and Kate is given custody of her niece, Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Kate has no idea how to deal with children, so her relationship with Zoe is rocky from the start. Assuming that Kate will need time to grieve, Paula hires Nick (Aaron Eckhart) to assist in the kitchen. Kate is infuriated by this, as she feels that Nick is invading her territory. But, when Kate sees how Nick bonds with Zoe, she begins to soften towards him. Will these new people in Kate's life change her icy demeanor?

Few dishes are made up of one ingredient, so a good recipe takes several parts. The problem with No Reservations is that there are too many things thrown into the part, and thus, none of them really stand out. Any one of the subplots could have made a good movie unto itself, but together, they feel like overkill. There could have been three separate movies with Kate's character. First of all, we could have had "Kate the High-strung Chef", which would have followed her struggle to overcome her pride and simply live for the joy of cooking. Then, there's the possibility of "Kate Loves her Rival", in which Kate learns that she can share a kitchen with Nick and love him at the same time. Finally, "Kate the Aunt Turned Mommy-in-Training" would have dealt with Kate's struggles getting to know and thus, earning the love of, Zoe. (This has suddenly turned into a pitch meeting.) A competent writer to transform any of those ideas into a feature-length film.

However, cramming all of those ideas into No Reservations makes the film feel unbalanced, and worst of all, emotionless. Just as we are getting used to one story line, "wham" another comes along. This also means that our feelings towards the film are constantly playing catch-up. "Wow! That Kate's a fiery one! Oh, what's that, her sister has died...oh, OK..." The only time that the film truly comes alive are the scenes in the kitchen. I knew that the film was losing me when I would simply sit and wait for the story to take Kate back to work. To make matters worse, some of the details between Kate and Zoe don't feel genuine. Would Kate really expect a child to eat some crazy fish meal? We can't all know everything, but Kate is too smart in every other facet of her life to be so naive when it comes to Zoe.

Despite these inconsistencies, the actors appear to be giving it their all. Zeta-Jones typically annoys me with her haughty attitude, but it works to her favor here, as she perfectly captures the essence of Kate the workaholic. When she finally lets her guard down, it feels genuine. Breslin continues to show growth as she never overplays Zoe, even when she learns of her mother's death. Now if only someone had gotten her a better wardrobe! The likeable Eckhart takes a stab at the romantic-dramedy genre with good results. He's proven in the past that he can play sleazy, but we always trust Nick.

I think that my biggest problem with No Reservations was that I expected more from it, especially given the somewhat offbeat resume of Eckhart and the somewhat serious filmography of director Scott Hicks. But, the movie is very predictable and cliched, and there is rarely a moment where we don't know exactly what it going to happen. I'd based most of my assumptions of the film on the trailer and was surprised to see that, like some action movies, that some of the trailer comes from the finale of the movie. I can't recommend No Reservations as a meal, but it may make a good snack.

No Reservations serves teeny tiny portions of food courtesy of Warner Home Video. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fairly good, as the picture is sharp and clear. There is very little grain to be had here and no defects from the source material. The only real complaint here is that some shots lack in detail and look somewhat flat. Artifacting is kept to a minimum and I didn't see any notable video noise. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a romdramedy, most of the audio in No Reservations deals with dialogue, but we do get some nice stereo effects. The New York City street scenes provide some notable surround sound effects, but we don't get much in the way of subwoofer here.

The No Reservations DVD contains one lonely extra. It's an episode of The Food Network show Unwrapped (21 minutes). Host Marc Summers interviews Zeta-Jones and Eckhart. We then learn how Chef Michael White served as a consultant on the film, and trained the actors. There is then a look at the real location from the film. Eckhart shows off some of the skills which he learned. There are also some comments from Breslin.

Warner Home Video has also brought No Reservations to Blu-ray Disc. Again, the film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear here, and there is only the tiniest amount of visible grain. While the DVD transfer looked good, this one is noticeably sharper. The colors are vivid and realistic and the image is very well-balanced. The depth of the image doesn't rival some other Blu-rays that I've seen, but it still looks fine. I noted no artifacting here and the image is highly detailed. The disc has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and 640 kbps. So, essentially, this is the sound track which was on the DVD. And yet, maybe it was my imagination, but it sounded somewhat better. The audio seemed to be clearer and louder. Whatever the case, the dialogue is always audible, as are the sound effects. The musical score creates some nice surround effects, but there is still little in the way of stereo or subwoofer action.

As far as the extras on the Blu-ray Disc, it contains the Unwrapped episode, plus one more bonus.  "Emeril Live" (42 minutes) is a full episode of the famous chef's show where Aaron Eckhart and Abigail Breslin join him to cook a dish and then they stick around to sample his cooking.  They talk about the movie and there are some clips.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long