Movie Review: ‘Hundred-Foot Journey’ could use more spice

For a film about cooking with unusual spices, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is awfully bland.

It’s not a bad meal – just reheated. And it offers a few too many courses.

The latest from director Lasse Hallstrom concerns two restaurateurs going head to head in rural France (Hallstrom, whose resume includes “Chocolat,” “Cider House Rules” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” certainly does seem to like food).

One of the two culinary combatants, played with the usual brilliance by Helen Mirren, runs a venerated high-class establishment that is gunning for its second Michelin star. She’s intensely displeased when a ragtag Indian family buys the old property across the street and opens Maison Mumbai, offering exotic Asian dishes of the sort Mirren’s place never carries.

Indian actor Om Puri plays the family’s patriarch, who’s convinced his twenty-something son, Hassan, has the cooking skills to give Mirren’s ritzy crew a run for its money.

Since that’s not quite enough conflict for a two-hour film, the story mixes in some romantic interest (Puri and Mirren are drawn to each other, and Hassan falls for a charming French lass) – plus a late-film set-piece in which Hassan becomes a world-famous chef who, all too quickly, begins to miss the simple, homey cuisine of his family.

Indeed, with all these plot strands, “Hundred-Foot Journey” has trouble figuring out what it wants to do. It’s funny in spots, mildly suspenseful in others, occasionally romantic – but not especially worthwhile in any of these areas.

By the time Hassan’s cooking odyssey arrives near the end, the film already has overstayed its welcome; and the quaint “let’s go home again” moral of this concluding section feels far too much like the animated film “Ratatouille.”

Some of the plot also is tough to swallow, including Puri’s endless cash supply, and worse yet, the early fire scene (let’s face it, if you could actually see a loved one just beyond some flames in a burning building, wouldn’t you go in after her?).

Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings, “Hundred-Foot Journey” has many strong points. The acting is first rate, highlighted by the scowling, gravel-voiced Puri and by Mirren, who gives her character far more depth and nuance than the script earns. Her scene after the mid-film fire is particularly convincing, with a strong meditation on the change of heart that can occur when animosity goes too far.

Manish Dayal is similarly nuanced as Hassan, and Linus Sandgren’s cinematography makes delicious use of light – though the film’s visuals are sometimes marred by too much computer-generated scenery (if you shoot in rural France, how about finding a genuine charming little village, instead of creating one with pixels in the background?).

Thanks to the performances, tasty-looking food scenes and A. R. Rahman’s cool musical score, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” makes a decent repast.

But a bit more spice, and smaller portions, might have earned an extra Michelin star.