A smorgasbord of unflattering culinary adjectives could happily garnish John Wells’ drama set against the fiery backdrop of London’s fine dining scene.
Half-baked, tepid, underseasoned – all are deserved for a film that asks us to root for a broken man with nothing to lose, then hands him redemption on a silver platter.
“I gave up drinking as well as sniffing, snorting, injecting, licking yellow frogs... and women,” casually explains the protagonist.
We miss out on seeing all that, so it’s like joining a rollercoaster ride halfway round the track and skipping that initial steep incline and sickening descent that sets the pulse racing.
Screenwriter Steven Knight, who painted vivid portraits of the capital in Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, fails to turn up the heat on his thinly-sketched characters.
They barely achieve a simmer as allegiances fray in pursuit of an elusive third Michelin star.
At his peak, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) was a rock star of the culinary scene at a restaurant in Paris led by the legendary chef Jean-Pierre.
Then he threw it all away, wrecking relationships with many of the people who helped him to ascend those dizzy heights including Jean-Pierre’s daughter, Anne Marie (Alicia Vikander).
Adam seeks atonement in New Orleans, where he shucks one million oysters, then returns to London, where he forces his way into the kitchen of a failing restaurant owned by the father of his old maitre d’, Tony (Daniel Bruhl).
Arrogant as usual, Adam promises to turn the eaterie around.
He recruits a talented team including former Parisian colleagues Michel (Omar Sy) and Max (Riccardo Scamarcio), brilliant sous chef Helene (Sienna Miller) and wet-behind-the-ears David (Sam Keeley).
Demons of the past return to haunt Adam and he contends with self-doubt as well as loan sharks and the people he gleefully offended, including sharp-tongued food critic Simone Forth (Uma Thurman) and rival chef Reece (Matthew Rhys).
Burnt has all of the ingredients of a tasty yarn, including a strong lead performance from Cooper and orgasmic shots of food preparation.
Alas, something is amiss in director John Wells’ kitchen because his finished dish is simplistic and bland, lacking any surprising flavours to keep us engaged.
London thrums with vitality through his lens and Emma Thompson enjoys an animated supporting role as the analyst, who helps Adam to acknowledge his insecurities.
Time and again, the chef loudly berates his staff for sloppiness, telling them that if their food falls short of perfection, it should be thrown away and prepared afresh.
Had Wells and screenwriter Knight followed this same advice, their picture might never have been made.