German filmmaker Fatih Akin, noted for award-winning dramas like “The Edge of Heaven,” takes a stab at comedy and romance with “Soul Kitchen,” an experiment in lunacy and laughs for Akin but an endurance test for the rest of us. Lacking character development and clean story construction, Akin’s film subsists on antic set pieces that try to wring laughs but come up dry.
The title refers to the comfort-food restaurant owned by the oafish Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos, who co-wrote the script with director Akin). With his journalist girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) on assignment in Shanghai, Zinos throws out his back while attempting to lug around a dishwasher in his restaurant kitchen. Too injured to cook, he hires a passionate but ill-tempered chef, Shayn (Birol Ünel), but his sophisticated concoctions turn away the restaurant’s regulars. Meanwhile, Zinos’ convict brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) weasels his way onto the wait staff so that he can get extended parole. Tensions mount when both tax and health inspectors show up with ultimatums, and the cutthroat realtor Neumann (Wotan Wilke Möhring) turns up the heat on Zinos to sell his restaurant
While Zinos and Nadine’s relationship goes the way of the Skype end-call button, Illias falls hard for Soul Kitchen’s sexy waitress Lucia (Anna Bederke). As word of the restaurant spreads to area hipsters, business starts to boom and so do the dance beats as Soul Kitchen takes off as a culinary and nightclub hangout. Akin saturates the soundtrack with the obligatory soul, funk and hip-hop for no good reason except to justify the film’s title, and to punctuate his themes of youth, fun and freedom. Zinos himself demonstrates no special connection with music or, for that matter, with cooking or running a restaurant.
Endless scenes of young people partying float along on semi-clever gags and generic good cheer, and do nothing to punch up the plot or enrich the central characters. As the object of Illias’ attraction, Lucia is a stock bohemian: She’s got the sullen pout, the exotic dance moves and the cigarette dangling from her lips. Both she, with her frumpy rebelliousness, and the waiter Lutz (Lucas Gergorowicz), who’s a garage band musician with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude, represent not characters but ideas for characters. Then there’s the unamusing curmudgeon Sokrates (Demir Gökgöl), a freeloading tenant of sorts in Zinos’ building. He’s a contemptible fly-on-the-wall type, hovering in the background, amounting to nothing. Indeed, Akin’s entire roll call of characters is comprised of ciphers and social clichés.
Blame “Soul Kitchen’s” script for the mess. Every joke, sentiment and set piece (one involving a Honduran aphrodisiac has predictably raunchy results) strains for effect, each falling flat. Zinos comes off as a clueless tool in whom we invest our total indifference, and his cohorts are largely throwaways forgotten no sooner than we leave our seats. Structurally, the script tangles together multiple strands, as the personal and professional pieces of Zinos’ life smash together, and it hasn’t a clue how to take its characters through the requisite beats of what is allegedly a story about a man’s search for self. Just as “Soul Kitchen” is allegedly an attempt at bright, witty comedy.
Directed by: Fatih Akin
Written by: Fatih Akin, Adam Bousdoukos
Cast: Adam Bousdoukos, Mortiz Bleibtreu, Birol Ünel, Anna Bederke, Pheline Roggan, Lukas Gregorowicz, Dorka Gryllus, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Demir Gökgöl