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Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin, 2009)

Taking an unexpected detour into broad comedy, German director Fatih Akin offers a minor, mildly entertaining romp with Soul Kitchen. With a large ensemble and a rowdy tone, Soul Kitchen feels closer in spirit to the boisterous films of Emir Kusturica or Tony Gatlif than what we have come to expect from Akin, but thatís not an entirely bad thing. While Akinís typical interest in Germanyís multicultural makeup is present here, the mood here is decidedly lighter than in his other works. Even though Soul Kitchen makes a political point about gentrification (in the form of an Aryan German businessman), the message takes a backseat to the laughs. 

Focusing on Greek-German underdog Zinos, Soul Kitchen shows the comic difficulties that face a small-time restaurateur as he ponders his direction in both life and business. A madcap, coincidence-laden film, Soul Kitchen sacrifices plausibility in the name of entertainment value. Over the course of the film, Zinos has to contend with his overwhelming tax debt, the health department, a new chef who thinks that heís an artist, a chronic hernia, and an ex-con brother. It takes talent to juggle that many plot elements, and to his credit Akin manages to achieve a uniform tone. Still, humor is not the most culturally transportable thing that you can put on a movie screen, and itís hard to imagine that anyone of any culture will fully embrace every part of the mishmash of sex jokes, ethnic humor, pratfalls, and broad gags that Akin trots out. The movie seems desperate to prompt laughter, but many of its attempts fail. 

Strip away its distinctive, working-class setting, and Soul Kitchen begins to feel like a Hollywood comedy from twenty years ago, which isnít so much a mark against the film as a surprise, given its maker. As zany, feel-good comedies go, this one is more snappily paced than most. The movie benefits greatly from its eclectic soundtrack, and due to multiple scenes featuring dance and food, it frequently becomes a party of a movie. Still, thereís no denying the impression that this is a minor work from Akin, which pales in comparison to the many better films that its genre has to offer. Ultimately, Soul Kitchen, while likeable enough, is mildly enjoyable and utterly forgettable. With more well-crafted performances or funnier gags, it could have made a greater impression, but its unambitious aims end up limiting its overall quality.



Jeremy Heilman