Directed By: Scott Hicks
Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Bob Balaban
No Reservations stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as Kate, a master chef at a swanky Manhattan eatery. Kate's perfectionist personal standards in her life and in her kitchen are thrown for a loop when a car accident claims the life of her sister, leaving her with the custody of her niece, Zoe (Breslin). At the same time, when one of her top chefs goes on a maternity leave, Kate finds that the restaurant owner, Paula (Clarkson), has bypassed her input to hire Nick (Eckhart), an extroverted chef specializing in Italian food who likes to play opera and entertain his co-workers in the kitchen.
While No Reservations, based on a German film released in the US as Mostly Martha, seems to want to be the lighthearted film promised by its trailer, it is a little too self-conscious in its construction to keep the romantic soufflé it is trying to concoct from collapsing. The filmmakers tiptoe around the conventions of opposites-attract romantic comedies as if they are too embarrassed to actually employ them. While the Nick-Kate relationship never really generates any heat in terms of either a professional rivalry or a romantic pairing, the plot threads concerning Kate's efforts to incorporate Zoe into her life and help her grieve the loss of her mother are much better developed and carry a dramatic heft that makes the rest of the plot seem trivial.
Part of the reason that the Kate-Zoe plot seems much better developed than the rest of the film is no doubt because juvenile actress Abigail Breslin has a much better on-screen rapport with both Jones and Eckhart than they have with each other. I am not sure this equates to inherently poor chemistry between Jones and Eckhart, though. It is more like the screenplay and/or editing do not give them a chance to really click. One cannot help but feel that there are scenes missing that would show their relationship developing at a more consistent pace. On the other side of the coin, the scenes between Jones and Bob Balaban as her therapist are all generally very amusing, but feel like a somewhat clichéd and unnecessary way to give us insight into the character of Kate.
On the technical side, the film is beautifully shot, and one would be hard-pressed to get through any of the various cooking scenes without feeling at least a little hungry. Director Scott Hicks, cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, and production designer Barbara Ling go for a deep rich, but never garish palette. The score by Philip Glass works best during the heavier dramatic moments, but does not serve the lighter romantic elements nearly as well.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 transfer is only a fair representation of the film's outstanding cinematography due to a somewhat bit-starved presentation. Compression issues result in a general softness and preponderance of noise that makes the film particularly disappointing to watch on a large projection screen. Otherwise, color and contrast are excellent with no obvious ringing around high contrast edges save for mosquito noise related to the compression issues. There is a 4:3 presentation available as well on this single sided double-layered disc. I only spot-checked it, but it seemed to have similar compression issues as the 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is extremely focused on the front speakers. There is nice stereo separation and excellent fidelity, but almost no use of the surrounds and LFE. The sound mix barely takes advantage of the potential for ambient surrounds to bring the kitchen and restaurant environments to three-dimensional life. Alternate Dolby Digital 5.1 language tracks are presented in French and Spanish.
The only item available from the Special Features menu is Unwrapped, a special episode of the Food Network series hosted by Marc Summers focusing on the movie. It runs 21 minutes and two seconds and is presented in 4:3 video. In-studio program footage fills the whole 4:3 frame, behind the scenes on-set footage is letterboxed to 16:9, and film clips are letterboxed to 2.4:1. Summers interviews cast members Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin in various settings as well as Director Scott Hicks. Given the nature of the show, a lot of the emphasis is placed on how the actors learned their way around a kitchen. Additional comments are heard from Chef Michael White who consulted on the film, The Little Owl Restaurant Owner/Chef Joey Campanero who provided one of its key locations, and French Culinary Institute Chef Lee Anne Wong who trained the actors in cooking techniques.
When the disc is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with five skippable promotional spots, all of them presented in 4:3 video letterboxed when appropriate with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. They are as follows:
- Get Smart theatrical teaser (1:18)
- Seinfeld Season 9 and The Complete Series Giftset DVD trailer (2:40)
- Ellen syndicated TV talk show (:32)
- Extra entertainment news TV show(:32)
- Fool's Gold theatrical trailer (2:23)
The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no inserts.
No Reservations is a film unbalanced by the success of some of its heavier dramatic scenes working against the half-hearted execution of the romantic arc between its two leads resulting in the cinematic equivalent of too much salt in the soup. It is presented on DVD with a video presentation marred by some obvious compression issues and an audio mix that has excellent fidelity, but little dimensionality. The only extra is an episode of the Food Network series Unwrapped that is largely promotional in nature but a little more interesting than standard electronic press kit materials due to its unique focus on the food-aspects of the production.