Is it na´ve of me to wonder why Hollywood keeps on remaking perfectly good films that have only one flaw: they're not in English? The German film from 2002, "Mostly Martha," written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, is the latest example. It's now been remade as "No Reservations," with Katherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart as the leads. It's almost a shot-by-shot remake of the original, which was about an imperious woman chef (Martina Gedeck) of a trendy restaurant in Hamburg, who's about as anal-retentive as they come. Her sister is killed in an auto accident and she must now take on the care of her 8-year-old niece. At the same time she now has an Italian sous-chef who loves to sing opera and is there to lighten up the kitchen and to be, guess what, a much better father-figure to the child.
So now we have Zeta-Jones as the chef and Eckhart as the sous-chef, and the sister's child is played by Abigail Breslin, of "Little Miss Sunshine" fame. The story is the same, though this being Hollywood they've added another fifteen minutes to the running time. She's jealous of him, thinking he'll take away her job; she makes endless mistakes taking care of Breslin, he is almost too good to be believable. That's like the first film. But the problem is that the second time around it's just not funny; if we already know every complication in their relationship, every pratfall in the kitchen, every lonely moment for Breslin to miss her mother in, what's left for us to enjoy? Somehow both the wit and the pathos of the original are missing here.
And it's not as though Zeta-Jones and Eckhart (or for that matter Breslin) are miscast; they are all attractive, they deliver their lines with skill; but the lines are just a bit flat, there aren't any of the witty confrontations that made the original so good, and Scott Hicks's direction is pedestrian at best. And in an unforgivable bit of stealing, they make Eckhart a - yes - a fan of Italian opera. Would you believe that the film's music is credited to the minimalist composer Philip Glass, but it's almost entirely source music - opera. Do see the original, though. It's a lot of fun.