Let me tell you something about Adam Jones.
Adam Jones is the protagonist of Burnt, the new movie starring Bradley Cooper. Burnt has been a long time in the works, having been around at least as long as Chef, the Jon Favreau movie about a chef who loses everything and starts over again, which usurped the title of this project. Burnt has a very similar premise, though unlike Favreau’s film, it is unfortunately centred around a character as inherently unlikeable as Adam Jones.
Adam Jones (Cooper) is a chef who was disgraced after tanking his Parisian restaurant and getting lost in a spiral of drug abuse. Two years on, he manipulates his former business partner Tony (Daniel Brühl) into giving him control over another restaurant as he attempts a comeback. He’s off drugs now, having committed himself to shucking exactly one million oysters before he would make his triumphant return to the kitchen. No, really.
Adam Jones got over his drug addiction without any help or rehab, because that’s just the kind of man he is. Excepting his visits to analyst Dr. Rosshilde (Emma Thompson) for weekly mandatory drug tests, he gets back on top as he rallies a motley crew of chefs to staff his kitchen.
Adam Jones is a hell of a guy, we’re led to believe. He’s the platonic ideal of chef-dom, even. Many of the chefs at his command have been screwed over by their new boss in the past, most recently when single mother Helene (Sienna Miller) lost her job as a result of Adam Jones getting her fired. Amongst her colleagues is Michel, (Omar Sy) a talented chef who was ruined when Adam Jones released rats in his restaurant and then called the health inspector.
Adam Jones is a perfectionist, see, and as a shouty chef who is unpleasant to everybody around him, that makes him a genius, rather than just a douchebag. We can’t think what would have attracted Cooper to the role of such a leather-clad, motorcycling culinary prodigy, but suffice to say, Adam Jones is lionised even more than his character in American Sniper. Heck, even his character from Limitless, who was functionally the smartest man alive, didn’t get the kind of positive reinforcement or begrudging respect from other characters that Adam Jones enjoys for the tortuous 101 minutes of Burnt.
Adam Jones is quite a hit with the opposite sex too. So much so, Uma Thurman’s food critic tells him that she often wonders why she slept with him, despite the fact that she is a lesbian. Both characters already know this, of course, but luckily, it doesn’t come up again. Helene is able to resist his sociopathic personality for a while, but, come on… he’s Adam Jones and she’s only human.
Adam Jones doesn’t respect people, but he sure respects Burger King. With very noticeable signage in frame, he meets with Helene at a branch of their fine fast food establishment and extols the virtues of “peasant food”, in a scene which definitely isn’t part of a product placement deal. With no irony whatsoever, he says things like “I don’t want my restaurant to be a place where people sit and eat. I want to make food that makes people stop eating” and as an audience, we’re supposed to invest in this as a laudable goal in artisan foodery, for a guy who man-splains the Whopper to a fellow chef.
Adam Jones is the kind of character that wouldn’t pass muster in a Will Ferrell comedy, although his battles with Reese are sometimes painfully reminiscent of the rivalry between Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Jean Girard from Talladega Nights. Burnt is even worse because it plays this ridiculous uber-chef with a completely straight bat.
Adam Jones is the kind of character who wouldn’t have been impressive back when everyone was going doo-lally about Gordon Ramsay shouting and swearing at his kitchen staff. We’re sure we could knock you down with a feather after revealing that Ramsay is one of the executive producers on this film, but Adam Jones is a wee bit more abusive than his real-life counterpart.
Adam Jones is the kind of character who needn’t have been a chef, except that it’s a meticulous profession that crucially involves being able to trust and rely upon others and writer Steven Knight is unusually terrible when he attempts to essay the kind of Sorkin-esque know-it-all that is sometimes fun to watch. Instead, it regurgitates much of Pixar’s Ratatouille, but with a prat instead of a rodent, (Pratatouille, if you will.)
Adam Jones is a horrible character, horribly played by Cooper, and he dominates Burnt, which is a film about food that basically makes you lose your appetite. Even with a sterling cast of supporting players, the film can’t get out from under the sheer weight of dreadfulness embodied by its lead character. It’s a gruesome vanity vehicle that approaches truly loathsome depths – Adam Jones is long past his rock bottom when we meet him, but he steps on a disinterested audience on his way back up.