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Dinner Rush
2000 - R - 98 Mins.
Director: Bob Giraldi
Producer: Bob Giraldi
Written By: Rick Shaughnessy, Brian S. Kalata
Starring: Danny Aiello, John Rothman, John Corbett, Edoardo Ballerini, Kirk Acevedo, Vivian Wu
Review by: Marc Eastman
Continuing in the grand tradition of the food movie genre, curiously (maybe) underemployed director Bob Giraldi (‘Hiding Out’, ‘The Routine’), and not at all curiously overworked actor Danny Aiello come together to do nothing more nor less magic than spin one hell of a yarn. Working off a great script by virgin writing team Rick Shaugnessy and Brian S. Kalata, ‘Dinner Rush’ squeezes its way into this niche genre to find itself approaching the head of the class with such movies as ‘Big Night’.

‘Dinner Rush’ puts a new spin on mobster movies, mainly by not being one... much. Louis Cropa (Aiello) owns a restaurant, is a bookie of sorts, and some ‘mobsters’ are trying to muscle in on him. That may make a lot of people think he’s a mobster himself, and frankly they’re probably right, but he’s not convinced.

We enter the movie with Louis and his partner discussing ‘getting out of the business’. Some hoods from Queens want to move in, and Louis is of a mind to let them have the bookie business. Never the restaurant though. His partner has a different attitude, and we soon see him running afoul of said mobsters, who go by the names Black and Blue, and dress accordingly.

As much grief as this obviously causes Louis, he has other worries. His son Udo (Edoardo Ballerini - ‘The Last Days of Disco’, ‘Drowning Lessons’) is the restaurant’s chef, and has turned the place into something that is outrageously popular, thanks mostly to his Nouveau Italian creations. It’s not all wine and roses though, Udo wants to really run things, and presses his father to give him the restaurant.

Louis has another problem in one of his cooks. Duncan (Kirk Acevedo - ‘Oz’, ‘Band of Brothers’) has a gambling problem, and is in debt to the very same mobsters causing all the trouble. Duncan, a sort of second son to Louis, is pushing Louis to the limits, but he’s a right enough chap deep down.

Apart from our opening scene, the movie covers the span of only one night in the restaurant, and we don’t really leave its confines except for the occasional cigarette break. It’s a busy night, as always, and even though it’s a Tuesday, you can’t get a table. Louis has invited Black and Blue to dinner so that they can discuss transfer of the bookie business, but the two upstarts want the restaurant as well. He’s also invited a police detective. A very snooty art gallery owner and his artist entourage take up a large table, leaving one of New York’s most important food critics in an awful corner nook. Throw in a twenty-minute blackout, a trivia guru bartender, and the fact that both Duncan and Udo are after the same hostess, and frantic does not begin to describe the festivities. There is so much happening, it’s a wonder you can keep track of half of it, but it’s all given to us in such a way that we’re on top of it all.

You might think, since I am going to tell you what a wonderfully effective, tight script this movie has, that everything plays out in a solid line, with every aspect being ‘relevant’. Well, yes and no. The scenes and characters are all relevant, in some sense, but many are what you might call purposefully irrelevant. We are realistically immersed in a night at a restaurant, and while there is certainly a plotline, not everything that happens in a crowded restaurant can be important to it, and that’s important.

Giraldi’s direction is truly striking, and that’s a surprising thing to say about such a movie. When it suits the story, we feel as though we’ve pulled up a chair and leaned in toward our characters, but when necessary we are merely another aspect of the dizzying, frantic shuffle that keeps the restaurant going on an overcrowded night. It’s a wonderfully paced movie, with definite, relevant, highs and lows, and clearly defined acts that have an actual purpose other than being the easiest way to deliver subtle shifts in character.

Apart from two glaring exceptions, the acting is excellent. Aiello is his usual, impressive self, and works wonderfully in this role that makes him something of ‘storyteller’. Ballerini, Acevedo, and John Corbett are also excellent in their roles, though Ballerini tries a little too hard at the beginning for Alec Baldwin’s character in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’. Very strong supporting roles are also given by Vivian Wu (‘The Joy Luck Club’, ‘The Pillow Book’), Summer Phoenix, and Polly Draper.

The two mentioned exceptions being Blue (Mike McGlone - ‘The Brothers McMullen’, ‘She’s the One’, ‘The Bone Collector’), and food-critic Jennifer Freeley (Sandra Bernhard). You’ll remember McGlone as the really annoying guy who can’t act in whatever you may have seen him in, and you’ll remember Bernhard as the really annoying woman who can’t act in whatever you’ve seen her in. They are both horrible, as usual, and they are both extremely distracting in this otherwise wonderful little gem. McGlone is the very definition of an unbelievable gangster. Bernhard is presented, bizarrely, as the high profile food critic who eats like a cow, and seems not to have the first clue about anything to do with food.

Luckily, these two don’t overly occupy the film, and they are easy to forgive.

Overall a very entertaining, enjoyable, passing the torch movie. Those who want to do things the old-fashioned way vs. those who change with the times, and one man who doesn’t like any of the food in his own restaurant stuck in the middle.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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