Thursday, August 19, 2010

Soul Kitchen: Who Stole the Soul?

Talk about bait and switch. Instead of soul food, they serve nouveau fusion cuisine and alt-rock has replaced the classic soul music, yet Zinos still calls his restaurant Soul Kitchen. It does not seem to hurt business though in Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

German-Greek restaurateur Zinos is not much of a cook, but his regulars eat up his greasy down-home offerings anyway. Recuperating from a back injury, Zinos makes a fateful decision, hiring a legit gourmet chef as his temporary replacement. In addition to being a culinary artist, Shayn happens to be Roma and intimidates people with his knife wielding prowess (nope, no cultural stereotypes going on here). Shayn alienates the local clientele with his new menu, but the hipsters start coming in droves. When Zinos hires his waiter Lutz’s grunge group to be the house band, suddenly Soul Kitchen is the in-scene.

Of course, Zinos is still besieged with a plague of dramas, most of which stem from Neumann (insert Seinfeld joke here), his long lost childhood chum, now a successful real estate developer. In Kitchen’s contrived world, such a profession guarantees his villainy. True to course, as soon as they reconnect, Neumann is scheming to swindle Zinos out of his primo property. Unfortunately, the unkempt restaurant proprietor is seriously distracted with his efforts to save his relationship with the severely Teutonic Nadine. Not for an instant though, are they remotely believable as a couple. On top of everything else, Zinos has to worry about his compulsive gambling brother, currently enjoying a prison furlough. Hey, no worries, everyone’s family at Soul Kitchen.

From the evil businessmen to the grumpy old neighbor, Kitchen does not miss a single cliché. That might have been forgivable had the film had a sense of fun. However, it is a surprisingly dour and uninvolving film. And yes, the largely Euro-alternative soundtrack is a major disappointment, given what one would expect from the title (and the misleading trailer).

Adam Bousdoukos tries to hit a likably nebbish note as Zinos, but he is such a doormat for trouble, it is hard to maintain a rooting interest in him. As Nadine, Pheline Roggan looks uncomfortable in every scene, which frankly makes her performance Kitchen’s most believable. The most intriguing turn comes from Anna Bederke as Lucia, the slightly less Teutonic waitress. Most of the cast though seems stuck on uber-indie quirky.

To get an idea of the fantasy world Kitchen is coming from, Zinos can expect compassion from the tax inspector and treachery from anyone with a real job. With few laughs in the offing, it all gets rather tiring. Aside from a bit of Quincy Jones’ “Hicky-Burr” (which is all kinds of awesome, by the way) the dark, hard-edged soundtrack is also mostly off-key. Safely skippable, Kitchen opens tomorrow (8/20) in New York at the IFC Center.