It’s always frustrating when a filmmaker doesn’t know his or her own strengths, and judging from his previous work, Turkish-German director Fatih Akin is a terrific populist filmmaker who thinks he’s a serious artiste. The best parts of his 2004 breakthrough Head-On play as manic-depressive screwball comedy shot through a filter of grime and slit wrists; it only falters when it volleys for Importance. And The Edge of Heaven, his contribution to the Crash-Babel cesspool, at least goes light on the isn’t-everything-connected-when-you-think-about-it banality and isn’t above throwing in gratuitous attention grabs, like girls making out. He’s a man at war with himself. It’s unclear whether Akin’s next film will be a return to Art, but his latest, the raucous crowdpleaser Soul Kitchen, makes a strong case for him to sell out.
A jam-packed, constantly mutating narrative, Kitchen hinges on endearing doofus Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos), owner of a restaurant situated in a dingy warehouse in an undervisited pocket of Hamburg. Wanting to be with his girlfriend in Shanghai, and suffering from a herniated disc, the uninsured, cash-strapped Zinos on a whim hires a Gordon Ramsay-mad chef (Birol Ünel), whose arty overhaul of the menu—and use of his knife in and out of the kitchen—scares off the regulars. Still, it’s not long before the joint magically becomes the latest foodie hot spot, although there’s always the chance Zinos’ thief brother (Moritz Bleibtreu) will fuck things up.
Make no mistake: This is the kind of movie with a shot of a guy counting a huge stack of bills, actually mouthing the word “wow.” But there’s no shame in making audiences happy, especially when they’re as inventively plotted as Soul Kitchen. Using all of his creative energy, rather than treating it as a kowtow to base populist needs before getting on with the Serious Work, Akin has made a film of sudden, extreme plot turns and goofy asides. Ünel refers to displeased customers as “culinary racists.” Snubbed by a DJ, Bleibtreu calls his friends to steal his turntable and speakers mid-set. The film stops dead as an obscure Honduran aphrodisiac fuels a Curtis Mayfield-backed orgy. If this was the only kind of film Akin ever cranked out, the world would not be sorry.