You could draw a long, clean line from the 1996 film Swingers to the 2014 film Chef. On the surface they couldn’t be more disparate – one a generational touch-point about proto-hipsters creating their own culture during the swing revival of the mid 1990’s, the other a film about an artist chef getting back to his roots and reigniting his passions. But they both have at their center a sad man (Jon Favreau) at a crossroads in his life. In Swingers he was a young guy who couldn’t get over the heartbreak of his first love lost while struggling to break into acting. Then in Chef he’s a middle-aged guy stuck in a rut after a divorce and struggling to fuel his passion for cooking. Both films show the prototypical artistic man at different stages in his life struggling to find balance and deal with feelings of loss. As it turns out, Favreau, when not directing perfectly serviceable blockbusters for the Hollywood machine, is capable of tapping into the male psyche with great sensitivity and humor through really good indie screenplays.
Carl Casper (Favreau) is a formerly renowned chef who’s lost his zest for life while working at a successful Los Angeles restaurant run by a man (Dustin Hoffman) who stifles his creativity and forces him to stick to the same old menu even when a top critic (Oliver Platt) stops by for a visit. He has a loyal crew (Bobby Cannavale and a shockingly likable John Leguizamo) and a sassy sexy hostess/waitress (Scarlett Johansson) who urge him to reignite those fires, but it takes a public blow-up with the critic who pans the tired menu that goes viral through Twitter to force him to take stock of his life after losing his job. When his ex-wife (the saucy and smoking hot Sofia Vergara) suggests he come with her to Miami (where he originally got his groove on for cooking), he reluctantly takes the opportunity under the guise of bonding with his smart, tech-savvy ten year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony, one of the most unaffected and casually natural child actors to come down the pike in a while). Still, it takes his ex’s ex (Robert Downey Jr.) gifting him a food truck before he truly seizes the moment to find his passion again and reconnect with the ones he most loves.
The crown prince of America’s premier weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (a sober Robert Downey Jr.) grows a conscience after being captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and decides to fight for what’s right in an innovative piece of body armor technology that will henceforth be known as Iron Man in Jon Favreau’s predictable but fun Marvel comic film adaptation.
Wisely abandoning the corny mawkishness of the Spiderman films and the recent attempt to revive the Superman franchise, Iron Man instead offers up some light satire, bright-eyed cynicism, and an attempt at witty banter. The always lovely Gwyneth Paltrow is a delight as Stark’s sassy assistant Pepper Potts, and it’s nice to see her doing something light and fun for a change. Also part of the off-kilter cast are Terrence Howard as Stark’s inexplicable military friend and Jeff Bridges bald and bearded as Stark’s mentor (and dun dun dun…enemy?) Downey Jr. apparently ad-libbed much of the dialog, which sometimes falls flat, but for the most part works. It’s certainly far more enjoyable than the typical fan-boy in-jokes that plague most comic book movies.
Certainly this is no Batman Begins in terms of depth and scope of drama, but with slam-bang special effects and an effortless feel (despite a slow build up to the action), Iron Man certainly fits the bill as a better than average comic book/action film. Is it any wonder critics and audiences have embraced it so warmly after suffering through loud obnoxious dreck like Transformers? While it has been a bit oversold, Iron Man proves that great special effects can be built around a smart story that doesn’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator. Until The Dark Knight it will have to cure our cinematic anemia.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database: