(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: The ups and downs of a restaurant in Hamburg are the subject of this comedy directed by Turkish- German filmmaker Fatih Akin. The Greek-German owner of the restaurant neither knows what to do with the restaurant or his life. Balancing his friends, his delinquent brother, his customers and his girlfriend gives him more than he can handle and gives us the texture of multi-cultural Germany. This film is frequently likable but is never really intriguing. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Zinos Kazantsakis (Adam Bousdoukos), a German-Greek living in Hamburg, runs Soul Kitchen, an unpretentious restaurant serving German lowbrow favorites like fish sticks, pizza, and schnitzel. These are basically all just heat-and-serve dishes. In addition to running the restaurant, he has a brother and friends who are more trouble than they are worth. His brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), recently returned from prison on parole, is turning to robbery to support his rock band. His girlfriend Nadine (Monica Bleibtreu) is moving to Shanghai for an extended stay in her job as a foreign correspondent.

In the middle of this upheaval Zinos gives himself a back injury that will get in the way of him cooking. He brings in a new chef who wants to turn the menu highbrow, though the clientele still want their pizza and schnitzel. Chef Shayne (Birol Ünel), can take fish and chips and rearrange it so that it looks like something from a fancy haute cuisine restaurant. Soon Zinos is getting customers who want the very fancy dishes that Shayne can create. But this group does not seem to go with his brother's rock band. Zinos finds himself being pulled in several directions and several subplots work themselves out, perhaps a little too conveniently at times. In the back of Zinos's mind are always his tax problems and getting the restaurant going, but the script keeps several plots running at the same time. Will the restaurant go back to plain fare, turn into a music club, or be a nouvelle cuisine upscale restaurant? Or will it be taken by the Tax Office?

Director and co-writer Fatih Akin won awards including the Cannes Film Festival best screenplay award for his 2007 THE EDGE OF HEAVEN. That film was reputedly a very serious effort. While one would not call SOUL KITCHEN a lightweight film, it is a comedy with generally lighter moments. Akin keeps the pace up except when the film stops for a piece of party music. But none of the plot lines is ultimately totally satisfying. Some are downright predictable or clichéd. It is hard to feel much for anyone in the film but perhaps Zinos. Many of the gag situations do not go anywhere. When the chef puts aphrodisiac in the food the club has one night of being steamy, but there later seems to be little effect or even mention of the odd night at the restaurant. Toward the end the script starts feeling contrived. Akin knows where he wants the story to go, but it is a long way from there too near the end. One can too much see his fingerprints on the plot from pushing it toward the ending he wants.

There are endearing moments in this German-language film, but it feels like with a little more direction it could have been more than it is. Do stay for the closing credits. I rate SOUL KITCHEN a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. SOUL KITCHEN will be released to theaters on August 20.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper