By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

If brash space warriors, street-wise, fighting turtles, or any of the usual, big-budget summer fare doesn’t tickle your fancy, perhaps this charming, understated film about cultures coming together over a passion for cuisine is the right ticket to purchase this weekend.  Based on the book by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey doesn’t offer any thematic material most film buffs haven’t already seen. However, the undeniable charm of the characters and the actors portraying them make this familiar journey that much more watchable.  Director Lasse Hallstrom and writer Steven Knight probably won’t win any major accolades for this delightful and delicious piece of saccharine cinema, but I can honestly see attending audiences leaving the theater pleased.

After suffering a couple of tragedies in India, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) and his family decide to move to France to start anew.  Hassan, his father (Om Puri), and his siblings have always run a family restaurant wherever they lived. They hope to introduce their delectable family recipes to the people of France.  Even though the family manages to find an inexpensive property to open their humble family business, and Hassan is a wizard in the kitchen, they face stiff competition from an acclaimed French restaurant run by the ice-cold, unflappable Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Through this intense rivalry, which actually gets quite ugly, Mallory discovers how talented a chef Hassan truly is and seeks to recruit him.

The Hundred-Foot Journey truly is a lovable film with a lot of heart.  The story plays out fairly predictably with only a few surprises here and there.  The culture clash and the racial issues the film brings up are not all that original and have been used as devices in other movies countless times.  Still, despite all the wealth and surplus of literature, film, plays, and other art that addresses these problems, racism is still something that plagues humanity. Hate and ignorance still exist.  Until it ceases to exist, and it probably never will, art will continue to address this issue in hopes of educating and enlightening more people.

The lead characters are decently developed, but the antagonists get the one-note, two dimensional treatment. They do bring a necessary evil to the story’s message, but don’t completely feel like that have a legitimate stake in the story.  Helen Mirren’s Madame Mallory occasionally suffers from this problem as her role is the typical and cliché stern, hard-to-please boss and teacher who challenges her employees and expects only the best from them. Still, Mirren’s performance and wit elevates the character from its limitations.

The entire cast all perform well with the highly likable Dayal providing the real pulse of the movie. Om Puri executes great comic timing as Hassan’s father and his character makes for sweet and humorous foil to Madame Mallory.  The delightful Charlotte Le Bon, who portrays aspiring chef Marguerite makes for an adorable love interest/rival for Hassan.

So while The Hundred-Foot Journey does have its faults, it does make for a lovely and pleasant trip to the cinema.  I would recommend this film for those not at all interested in loud, boisterous and explosive blockbusters. The story is not all that original, but like a good reliable recipe, it is very palatable and goes down smoothly.

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