It's hard to know what's more offensive about Off the Menu—that its utterly predictable plot becomes painfully obvious within the first 10 minutes, or that a film hinging on the legacy, tradition and flavor of green chile so refers to New Mexico's favorite veggie as the no-one-actually-says-it-that-way plural: "chiles."
We follow Joel Flanagan (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Santino Fontana, who is usually fantastic elsewhere but is beholden to a poor script here), the heir to a Taco Bell-esque fast food Mexican joint. Joel is more interested in training for the Iron Man and getting paid to do nothing, but when the company CEO (also his sister, played by Kristen Dalton) starts sending emissaries across the country to basically steal regional recipes, he's forced to visit small-town New Mexico. Here, a young chef named Javiera (Dania Ramirez) lovingly crafts delectable dishes in her tiny restaurant thanks, in part, to her family's secret recipe which uses—shudder—"chiles."
Everything you think will happen happens (they fall in love, he does a bad thing, she gets pissed, they make up), and that might have been fine for a Hallmark MOW and all, but someplace between the terrible dialogue and bizarre lighting choices (Javiera's kitchen glows like it's heaven, which may have been the point, but c'mon!) lies some pretty questionable material about how small-town New Mexicans are xenophobic country bumpkins more interested in being isolated from the world than anything else.
Mild conflict ensues, bad performances abound—particularly from Andrew Carter as Javiera's money-hungry foodie boyfriend—and the 90-ish minute running time becomes a seemingly endless lesson in how not to make a movie. It's possible, in fact, that its inclusion in the Santa Fe Film Festival has little to do with quality and everything to do with having been shot in and around Taos and Santa Fe (though that Santa Fe shot was probably just B-roll footage shot by a PA).
We'll admit Off the Menu did reaffirm our love of New Mexican food but, and it might be small, the "chiles" thing grates in a very real way. Throw in a complete lack of originality and a sickeningly precious song over the opening credits and it's hard to recommend this to anyone. Check out the other stuff at the fest, absolutely, but try to forget this one existed in the first place.
+Chile really is the best, they're right
-It's "chile" with no "s!"; everything else
Off the Menu
Directed by Jay Silverman
With Fontana, Ramirez, Carter and Dalton
The Screen, NR, 96 min.