From Scott Hicks ("Shine" and "Hearts In Atlantis") comes the romantic comedy/drama "No Reservations", which you may have already inferred is based in the restaurant business. Not just any restaurant, though; the fast paced upper scale eatery depicted in the film is based in Manhattan. It is the kind of place that requires superstar talent and a lot of hard work to keep the higher class guests happy. And that's what Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is attempting to do when things in her obsessively manipulated lifestyle start becoming frantically haywire starting with her habit of being rude to her customers when they complain about anything she prepares. Her lack of appropriate customer service skills doesn't go unnoticed for long, eventually the owner of the fine dining establishment Paula (Patricia Clarkson) orders her to see a therapist (Bob Balaban). Although convinced she has no need for any outside help, she seems to enjoy finally having someone to open up to, and the further he digs into her psyche the quicker he realizes what I had figured out within minutes of looking at her character, everything in her life is controlled and she keeps everything and everyone at a safe distance. This is also the reason her last relationship failed when she was unable to move in with the guy, it also explains why she is single, she's the type that is married to her job.
But, when tragedy strikes and her sister dies in a shocking car accident, she receives a letter informing her that it was her dying wish that she care for her nine-year-old daughter, Zoe (Abigail Breslin from "Little Miss Sunshine"), who immediately moves into her immaculate and over-decorated apartment. At this point I think it is going to be one of those films where the charm of the child makes the stern main character notice the little things in life, but then the film goes in yet another direction.
To further disrupt our uptight chef, after having an emotional breakdown at work, she is ordered to take some time off, which gives her some time to try and bond with her extremely distant niece, which is difficult because she obviously isn't the type who even likes kids and is basically just selfish. But when she returns to work, there is someone else in the kitchen, a charismatic soup chef named Nick (Aaron Eckhart) who has seemingly charmed the entire staff with not only his passion for cooking, but his light hearted and amusing kitchen techniques, which include singing opera and generally being a much needed breath of fresh air. Especially after the ultra serious and calculated nature of Kate, whose absence no doubt was probably well received.
If you haven't figured it out by now, the two chefs begin competing with each other and eventually they become romantically interested, but his light hearted and fun nature combined with her overly serious and confined nature clash from the beginning, not to mention the complication of her niece, but of course Nick is great with kids. The film does go into several different directions at once and perhaps can't make up it's mind as to what it wants to be, other than that if you are looking for some mindless entertainment that can be enjoyed with a female, perhaps you could consider this a rental.
The transfer falls short of being spectacular, also, although there are many scenes where the color is well balanced and it takes on that three-dimensional effect seen in many new releases. It is also fairly inconsistent and sometimes looks no better than the upconverted DVD version, which is conveniently on the other side for comparison. This is probably one of, if not the last, combo format releases, which is fine by me. So this release falls short of my expectations of what a new release should look like in high definition, although I was never distracted from the rather empty storyline.
The same goes for the audio department, although it is presented in Dolby Digital Plus. It basically sounds insignificant, but what do I expect from a film like this? Nothing spectacular really. The surrounds kick in every once in a while with the ambient kitchen sounds and the dialogue is always audible and the music sounds effective, so all in all, like everything else about this release, it doesn't stand out as excellent like some other high def releases, but it isn't insultingly poor either.
The special features also stay in the same insignificant and underwhelming category of this offenseless and safe romantic comedy, although they are certainly appealing enough for a film of this nature, if you ask me. The first appears on the standard edition also, and both are in standard definition, it is a twenty three minute episode of a cooking show from Food Network called 'Unwrapped' in which the host Marc Summers pays a visit to the films set and it is basic promotional material.
And exclusive to the HD-DVD side is a forty five minute episode of 'Emeril Live' in which our two main stars appear as guests to cook up some dishes and talk to his audience about their film, this feature will appeal to those who like Emeril, but if you think he's obnoxious and annoying then stay away from this one.
I'm not really a huge fan of romantic comedies and this title didn't sway me in either direction, it is certainly not offensive and while I do like the cast something about this release is ultimately forgettable, still if this is the type of film you are looking for, I perhaps could suggest a rental. Either way, the HD-DVD version fails to live up to what I expect a new release to look like, even if the material doesn't necessarily warrant it.