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By Stina Chyn | July 30, 2007

Although it has only been two years since Catherine Zeta-Jones has been on the big screen in Martin Campbell’s “The Legend of Zorro” (or “Z”), it probably feels closer to five years to the fans of the brown-haired Welsh beauty. Jones makes a strong return in Scott Hicks’s comedy “No Reservations,” a remake of director-writer Sandra Nettlebeck’s film “Mostly Martha” (2001).

Kate (Jones) has to see a therapist (Bob Balaban) about anger management issues, but life is good for the single and child-free head chef of a successful New York City restaurant. Solitude is quickly replaced with parenthood as Kate becomes the legal guardian of her sister’s daughter Zoe (Abigail Breslin) and must summon nurturing capabilities she probably didn’t know she had. The need to keep cool under duress is further tested when her boss (Patricia Clarkson) hires a sous chef, Nick (Aaron Eckhart). For someone who demands control and perfection out of a life that is unpredictable and imperfect, life has suddenly become significantly more eventful.

Jones and Eckhart generate convincing chemistry. The film would’ve been a disaster if performed by a different cast. The pacing is good; and the film is funny, but it’s also very sentimental. The tears come every time Zoe talks about her mom, whose likeness is replayed through photographs and home videos. The film wouldn’t have suffered much with fewer of these moments. Given the director’s previous work (“Shine,” “Snow Falling on Cedars,” and “Hearts In Atlantis”), though, these scenes are likely unavoidable.

Hicks’s film holds together cohesively, balancing the tensions of Kate’s new work situation and domestic responsibilities. One particular sequence, however, threatens to disrupt an otherwise well-developed plot. However amusing it might be, the sous chef montage towards the end of the film is completely unnecessary.

I generally wince at the thought of a foreign film receiving a Hollywood do-over, but “No Reservations” satisfactorily Americanizes its German predecessor by taking an originally more serious story and adding to it a lighter, more comedic tone. Not to suggest that I prefer the old to the new or vice versa, but considering Hicks’s film on its own, it surpasses any romantic comedy I’ve seen in a long time.

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