What No Reservations needs is a smell-sensitive rat who can cook. Instead we get head chef Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a perfectionist who runs the kitchen of a swanky Manhattan eatery with an iron fist. Let’s just say she’s in desperate need of an attitude adjustment so in pops new sous-chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart) a free-spirited fellow who cooks by the seat of his pants. Soon he’s got the whole kitchen staff laughing and loving him way more than Kate. Nick tries to charm Kate too but she won’t have any of it. To top it off Kate unexpectedly becomes the guardian of her 9 year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) after her sister dies in a car accident. The understandably distraught Zoe is having a tough time and won’t eat any of her aunt’s highfalutin cuisine. The little girl only likes fish sticks—and as it turns out spaghetti a Nick specialty. Yes Nick finally melts Kate’s heart when he gets Zoe to eat a hearty bowl of spaghetti. You can see where this is going right? Love—and tomato sauce—conquers all. When you have two incredibly attractive people onscreen together you want the sparks to fly. Think Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. True those two were falling in love for real but still it makes for a more fulfilling and cinematically romantic experience. But alas it doesn’t always work out and in No Reservations’ case the love story between Zeta-Jones and Eckhart deflates like a fallen soufflé. On their own they each hold up well: Zeta-Jones is good at being steely but emotionally stunted when it comes to matters of the heart while Eckhart’s easy-going charm and great smile make his Nick an obvious choice for any woman. Get them together however and things sag like a wet noodle. Too bad. Breslin is her usual cute self playing it a little more somber than she did in Little Miss Sunshine but the little actress ought to be careful not to pigeon-hole herself into the “eccentric but affecting” kid role. No Reservations also has another knock against it: It’s a remake of the German film Mostly Martha a far more stellar—and original—effort. Natch. Turning a hit foreign film into a studio picture rarely works out; something always gets missed in the translation which for No Reservations is surprising since Mostly Martha writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck is listed as the co-writer. What Nettelbeck did with Mostly Martha is revolve her story around master chef Martha (played brilliantly by Martina Gedeck) and her quirks and anxieties over suddenly having to raise a child. The love story with the Italian chef is more a pleasant surprise than the driving force. But of course with No Reservations the romance is played up for that certain chick flick appeal with two people who have no chemistry. Maybe Nettelbeck was lured into Americanizing her original. For his part director Scott Hicks (Shine) is definitely capable enough to carve out what he can from this predictable set up even adding some flair to the kitchen scenes but he can’t quite push No Reservations past its banality.
What story? For all the technological breakthroughs the plot is pure Disney formula (wisecracking comic relief obligatory romance) set in the Cretaceous period. Visually captivating but thin in plot "Dinosaur" tells the tale of a spunky Iguanadon (voiced by D.B. Sweeney) who joins a quirky band of dinos on a quest for self-discovery and a new land.
The competent voice cast includes Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian the Crab from "The Little Mermaid") as the crusty dinosaur leader and Julianna Margulies (TV's "ER") as the lizard that steals our hero's heart. But the real credit belongs to the animators who obviously went to great lengths to create expressive faces on our dino friends. It's a shame that Disney who refrained from the routine singsongs and cheesy ballads couldn't have exercised more restraint and kept these dinosaurs silent. It would've been far more thrilling to see these beasts interact as they may have done millions of years ago rather than spouting forgettable quips. James Newton Howard's score provides all the audio needed.
It took five years to create this film and it shows. Directors Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton (supervising animator on "A Nightmare Before Christmas") deserve high praise for their innovative blend of filmed settings and CGI wizardry. Last year's "Toy Story 2" was a party for the peepers but "Dinosaur" sets a new standard in the "How'd they do that?" department. Parents take note: The film's violent dino battles are scarier than the dino Happy Meal you bought to get the dino toys.