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'American Cuisine' 

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Sugar & Spice

'American Cuisine' proves sweet & tasty

THE FIRST THING to note about American Cuisine is that its opening moments really sizzle. And bubble. And hiss. And chop. And sauté. And pour. And percolate.

Before we see a single image on screen in this light and fluffy romantic comedy from Beaches screenwriter Jean-Yves Pitoun, the director serves up an evocative medley of culinary kitchen clamor that has us salivating deliriously in anticipation of all that food.

That the first image we see--the face of a baby, messily devouring a creamy mass of mashed potatoes--is just the first surprise in what turns out to be a whole menu of them.

The baby, we learn, is the kid who will grow up to be Loran Collins (Jason Lee), a Navy cook who dreams of becoming a great chef in the tradition of his hero, French master chef and restaurateur Louis Boyer.

After Loran is bounced from the Navy for decking the senior officer who slandered his salmon and baked peaches, a fortunate coincidence presents him with the chance of a lifetime: a position in the kitchen of Boyer's four-star restaurant in France. Faster than you can say, "How much will you give me for my motorcycle?" Loran has sold his Goldwing to buy a ticket overseas, where he meets his first disappointment.

Boyer thought Loran was a woman's name. Believing he must maintain an equal number of male and female chefs in his kitchen, the flamboyant, impossibly temperamental Boyer (Eddy Mitchell) fires Loran on the spot. The great chef, it turns out, suffers from "paranoid narcissistic dementia." Apparently, he has a brain tumor he refuses to have looked at, owing to his hatred of doctors. This has led to Boyer's recent rash of bizarre behavior: publicly assaulting food critics (the only people he hates more than doctors), locking himself in the fish freezer, and appearing in the kitchen stark naked (well, he's wearing an apron).

Boyer, who winds up forming an unlikely bond with the brash American, eventually gives Loran a chance, allowing him to work for room and board--just until he can be properly replaced by a woman. The kitchen scenes are among the film's best, as Loran's alternately competitive and seductive fellow cooks scamper like caffeinated dancers--with knives--to satisfy the customers' appetites.

Of course, Loran quickly falls for Boyer's daughter (the beautiful Irene Jacob), who resents the newcomer's growing bond with her father. Meanwhile, as Boyer's shenanigans grow more severe, Loran ends up becoming the great chef's favorite personal project, leading to a number of sharply funny culture clashes.

When Boyer looks to Loran for help after starting a fish-market fistfight, the chef tells him, "You must know what to do. Crazy things happen to Americans all the time."

While Mitchell is endearingly outlandish, and Jacob is tough and adorable, it is Jason Lee who is the real eye-opener here. A longtime staple of Kevin Smith movies (he's been in all of them: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma), Lee also played the skate-boarding billionaire in Lawrence Kasdan's little-seen Mumford. American Cuisine marks his first role as a romantic lead, and he handles the job with charm and a remarkable amount of presence.

Like a great big serving of salmon and baked peaches, American Cuisine is both unexpected and satisfying.

'American Cuisine' opens Friday, July 20, at the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. For details, see , or call 415/454-1222.

From the July 19-25, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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