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No Reservations

Familiar and Occasionally Satisfying

Stop me if this premise sounds familiar: a single, career-oriented (and obsessed) woman becomes her nieceís legal guardian after her sister dies in a tragic accident. Somewhere along the way, the woman meets a suitable member of the opposite sex and, after a few false starts, learns the value of balancing her work life with her newly invigorated personal life. Sounds like a remake of 1988ís Baby Boom starring Diane Keaton, right? Actually, itís not. No Reservations is a remake of a 2001 German comedy/drama, Mostly Martha. Directed by Scott Hicks (Hearts in Atlantis, Snow Falling on Cedars, Shine), No Reservations is a modestly entertaining romantic comedy and family drama mix.

Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) seemingly has it all, a stimulating, rewarding position as the head chef at an upscale Greenwich Village restaurant and a spacious, airy, well-furnished apartment that the average New Yorker would envy. At work, her tough, uncompromising attitude wins the staffís respect, if not their friendship. What Kate doesnít have is a romantic relationship, despite one of her neighborís (Brian F. O'Byrne) obvious efforts to the contrary. She also doesn't have a handle on her temper: she doesnít take kindly to criticism from the restaurantís well-heeled patrons. To get a grip on her anger issues, the restaurantís owner, Paula (Patricia Clarkson), has forced Kate into therapy. Her therapist (Bob Balaban) tries to get Kate to open up about her emotional needs, but with minimal success.

Everything changes for Kate when her sister dies in a car accident, leaving her as the sole guardian for her niece, ZoŽ (Abigail Breslin). At least at first, the emotionally traumatized ZoŽ has little interest in interacting with Kate or eating her elaborately prepared meals. Woefully unprepared for parenthood, Kate struggles to get through to ZoŽ and only succeeds when she invites her to ďhelpĒ out at the restaurant one evening. ZoŽ becomes enamored with the presumably temporary replacement for the restaurantís very pregnant sous chef, the free-spirited, unconventional Nick (Aaron Eckhart). Not surprisingly, Kate doesnít get along with Nick, who she sees as a threat. ZoŽ, of course, sees Nick as the missing puzzle to a reconstituted family.

Surprisingly, No Reservations departs from the usual conventions and clichťs of the romantic comedy by incorporating elements typical of family or relationship dramas. The mix of formulaic, lightweight comedy with ďheavyĒ drama involving ZoŽís mourning and eventual recovery makes No Reservations less than ideal for couples looking for an undemanding ďdate movieĒ.

However, this doesnít always work, mostly because the tonal shifts from comedy to drama isnít handled as smoothly by Scott Hicks or his screenwriter, Carol Fuchs, as it could or should be. The mix of comedic and dramatic elements also means that the conflict that usually drives both genres isnít as sharp or well defined as weíve come to expect.

Luckily, though, Hicks has charismatic leads in Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin to work with. A year removed from her Academy Award-nominated performance in Little Miss Sunshine, Breslin proves her performance wasnít a fluke. The screenplay demands a lot emotionally from the eleven-year old Breslin, all of which she delivers without a hint of forcefulness or a lack of authenticity. The Kate-Nick storyline doesnít ask much of Zeta-Jones and Eckhart except to furrow their brows at each other, exchange harsh, teasing words, and then give in to the predictable demands of their burgeoning romance. All of which makes No Reservations not quite a date movie, not quite a relationship or family drama, but a semi-successful, mildly entertaining way to pass a Saturday evening.

Rating; 3 out of 5 stars