Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck chef gets more than he bargained for when he steps into the life of an old culinary school pal, a private chef for the über-rich.
Stars: Nick Stahl, Tamsin Topolski, Randy Vasquez, Penelope Mitchell, Juan Carlos Messier, Brian Groh
Director: Nicholas Tomnay
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Admittedly, I have the palette of an 11-year-old, but wow, do I love watching cooking shows involving fine dining! Hold the mushrooms, but please let me watch you sauté, bake, fry, boil, reduce, sous vide, steam, tonight’s meal. Unsurprisingly, given my love of all things “chef” and suspense, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me interested in this sly thriller, written and directed by Nicholas Tomnay. Making its North American debut at Fantastic Fest after its premiere in Canada at the Fantasia International Film Festival in late July, What You Wish For is a dish you bite into thinking it’s one temperature but realize after chewing it over that its true heat breaks late.
Arriving in an unnamed Latin American country, we aren’t sure if Ryan (Nick Stahl, Hunter Hunter) is where he should be. Texts on his phone suggest he’s trying to get away from someplace (or someone), and there’s an edge of desperation recognizable on his face that tells us he’s bearing a heavy burden. He’s quickly whisked away in a fancy car to a secluded villa where he meets up with a longtime friend and fellow chef, Jack (Brian Groh, Breaking), who has been hired to cook for an exclusive party in several days’ time. The gig is that he arrives early, sources the local produce, and has everything ready before the clients come. Jack and Ryan had recently reconnected, and the timing was right (very right, it turns out) for Ryan to get out of the States.
Through a series of events (no spoilers, remember?) Ryan poses as Jack for the party hosted by Imogene (Tamsin Topolski), Maurice (Juan Carlos Messier), and their small, international group of guests. At first, Ryan thinks this dinner party is your standard affair and attempts to fall back on his culinary school tricks…but Imogene and Maurice have arranged something different with Jack. What this party is for, why the police show up, and what is being served are all questions that you’ll need to figure out on your own; it’s all part of the tricks Tomnay has up his chef’s jacket.
For once, I found myself leaning forward in a movie about a man’s lies getting him deeper and deeper into trouble. Usually, I recoil the longer a charade goes on at the absurdity of not just telling the truth. Still, Tomnay and Stahl subtly sell it that Ryan would need to maintain his cover as long as possible in these circumstances. A level of danger is inherent in what’s taking place, and the stakes only get higher as the night progresses. The film takes a few giant leaps as it nears the conclusion that doesn’t jive with the established realism of the rest of the movie, but that can be forgiven because so much of the film is captivating.
As a critic, you wish for movies that will shake up the norm in a genre and give you something new to digest. What You Wish For may have some twists you can smell coming from a few paces away, but I’m guessing it will keep you hungry to discover what happens in the final course. Stahl and Topolski are lethally good together; you are reminded again how strong of an actor Stahl has always been, and I found Topolski’s cool-as-ice performance to be top-notch. If you see this one on your (video) menu, order it up!