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CHEF: 3 ½ STARS. “The film is more ‘Iron Chef’ than ‘Iron Man.’”

Chef3Perhaps Jon Favreau is still stinging from the reviews he received for “Cowboys & Aliens” or maybe a critic kicked his dog when he was young. Either way judging by his outburst at a food critic in the new comedy “Chef,” he holds some serious animosity for those who sit in judgment of the creative class.

I’ll keep that in mind as I write this review.

Favreau (who also wrote, directed, produced and stars in the film) is Carl Casper, a former hot shot cook, now a divorced work-a-day chef who spends so much time pumping out his boss’s high-end but unimaginative menu, he has no time to spend with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

When a famous restaurant critic (Oliver Platt) comes in Carl finds himself stuck between Riva, a restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) who wants to play it safe, and his own instincts to push the envelope.

“If you bought Stones tickets and they didn’t play Satisfaction, would you be happy,” asks Riva. “Go with the favorites.”

The plan backfires and Carl is stung by a review that slaps him for a “lack of imagination” and suggests “his dramatic weight gain can only be explained by his eating all the food that is sent back to the kitchen.”

A confrontation with the critic leads sets him on a path to regaining his passion, a journey that begins behind the wheel of a food truck.

The new film is more “Iron Chef” than “Iron Man” and it’s nice to see Favreau shelve the CGI of his biggest hits and return to the human heartbeat of films like “Elf” and “Swingers.” “Chef” is a crowd pleaser that combines its ingredients in a familiar but still delicious way. It’s somewhat predictable, but like comfort food it’s warmly inviting.

Favreau and his sidekick, sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) are a natural culinary comedy team, with an easy chemistry that gives the movie much of its charm. Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson, as Carl’s ex and current flame respectively, suggest that women find men who cook irresistible, or that Favreau is playing the Woody Allen card of casting slightly out of his league. Both hand in spirited performances and after a brief pasta seduction scene it’s clear Carl has figured out that the old saying, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” applies to women as well.

Robert Downey Jr lightens things up in a slick-talking role that was probably written for Vince Vaughn, and Russell Peters has a funny, but unrealistic cameo as a snap-happy cop.

Critic bashing aside, “Chef” is a lightweight, but enjoyable film; an amuse bouche that may leave you hungry for something more substantial but still manages to satisfy.

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