Competent cooks Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart serve up a comfortable concoction

No Reservations

on July 27, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
Based on Sandra Nettelbeck's 2001 German film Mostly Martha , No Reservations centers on Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the exacting head chef at an upscale French restaurant in Manhattan. Between late nights at the bistro and early mornings at the fish market, Kate's most intimate relationship is with her employer-mandated therapist, with whom she can find little to discuss other than the best way to prepare quail. The cook's ascetic lifestyle is upended, however, by the death of her sister and the arrival of a new houseguest, her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin).

While Kate is adjusting to her new living situation, the restaurant's proprietor Paula (Patricia Clarkson) hires a new sous chef, Nick (Aaron Eckhart). Kate returns to find that the interloper has disrupted the efficiency of her kitchen by—gasp!—playing opera music and cracking wise. A head-chef-in-the-making, Nick has turned down better job offers for the chance to work with Kate and learn the secret of her legendary saffron sauce. The pair hit it off like flint on steel, but soon enough the sparks on the kitchen's gas stove aren't the only ones flying.

In performances that are uniformly enjoyable, despite benign dialogue, Zeta-Jones is convincingly uptight; shaggy-haired, pajama-bottomed Eckhart is affable; and, in the film's emotional scenes, Breslin proves her Oscar-nominated performance was no fluke. But, unlike the summer's other (and better) haute cuisine, which revolves around the unappetizing conflict of a rat in a kitchen, No Reservations plays it safe.

Although parentally inexperienced and lacking a maternal instinct (we're told), Kate not once hesitates at taking in her niece, and the worst she does in the new role is leave her new charge at home with an agency-delivered Goth babysitter and forget to pick her up from school one afternoon. Kate's biggest mistake is keeping Zoe out late every night at the restaurant. The girl is falling asleep in class and risks being taken away by child services.

This empty-feeling threat is about as bad as it gets, which is pretty much the case throughout the film. Nick's unorthodox style and innovative ideas attract Paula's attention, but it's never suggested that Kate's perfectionism could also signal stagnancy. Nor do her absences from work ever imply that the upheaval in her personal life is affecting her ability to do her job. (The distaff demo is too precious to this Simpsons alternative to risk offending working mothers.)

If this Scott Hicks ( Shine )-directed movie is in want of spice, however, it certainly tastes familiar and is in that way satisfying. Like a bowl of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, No Reservations is a dish of bland, yet consoling, comfort food.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin and Patricia Clarkson
Director: Scott Hicks
Screenwriter: Carol Fuchs
Producers: Kerry Heysen and Sergio Aguero
Genre: Romance
Rating: PG for some sensuality and language
Running time: 104 min.
Release date: July 27, 2007
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