Cook Off!

The Van Rookle Farms Cooking Contest is kicking off, ready to crown its next million dollar winner. Sharon Solfest (Cathryn Michon) is hoping to win big this year. Her sister Pauline (Wendy McLendon-Covey) is also competing, but her creamed corn recipe seems unlikely to win. Cassandra Dougherty (Jennifer Elise Cox), a slightly unstable young woman, is pressured to perfection by her mother (Cristine Rose). Ladybug Briggs (Niecy Nash) has traveled from Atlanta to be the first African-American contestant. Del Crawford (Diedrich Bader) is the contest’s first man to enter.

As the drama heats up, including latecomer Amber Strang (Melissa McCarthy) fighting her way into the kitchen, the Van Rookle staff struggles to maintain control.

Shot mockumentary style, Cook Off! provides a behind-the-scenes look at a cooking competition.

The cast includes a host of big names in comedy. Melissa McCarthy is in full McCarthy mode, going over the top both in her delivery and her physical comedy. It isn’t as subtle and sophisticated as some of her recent work (like her excellent performance in Spy). In fact, just about everyone is completely over the top in their performances. It works well for the film.

The story, originally written a decade ago, pokes fun at the high-stakes world of cooking competitions. It pokes fun at the competitive nature of the contestants, high-strung staff, cook off mascots, celebrity judges, and questionable recipe choices. It doesn’t feel so much written as an improv exercise made into a feature-length film. I think the cast was given a general direction the film would head and certain key plot points. Other than that, they were free to do whatever they want. This provides for some genuinely funny moments, even if some parts feel purely ad-libbed.

While it isn’t the funniest film of the year, or even McCarthy’s best performance, Cook Off! is a fun escape. It is goofy and absurd, but in a good way. Opening in theaters and VOD, I would say get it on demand and watch it at home.

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