Dinner Rush
Starring:

Danny Aiello, Kirk Acevedo, Edoardo Ballerini, Vivian Wu, Sandra Berhard, Mike McGlone, and John Corbett

Director:

Bob Giraldi

Writing credits: Rick Shaughnessy and Brian S. Kalata
Distributor:

Access Motion Pictures Group * 98 minutes

Rated: PG-13
  (U.S. 2001)

The culinary ensemble comedy DINNER RUSH, which eavesdrops on a packed evening at a posh Tribeca eatery, shares the heady, dizzying atmosphere that turns great meals into memorable events -- spicy, flavorful ingredients prepared with great care and presented with gasp-worthy flourishes of spectacle. If its light construction keeps one from being fully sated by the film's end, it nevertheless manages to be as temporarily intoxicating as the champagne flowly freely to the restaurant's guests.

The many successes of DINNER RUSH must be credited to director Bob Giraldi, whose one previous feature, the 1987 Jon Cryer disaster HIDING OUT, showed little of the confidence and ability demonstrated in this latest picture. Managing a screenplay with over a dozen major characters is a feat that has overwhelmed many more accomplished directors; that Giraldi not only manages the task, but does it with such grace and artistry, makes DINNER RUSH one of the more pleasant minor surprises of the year. (Or, perhaps I should say, last year: DINNER RUSH premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September of 2000, but is only now receiving limited distribution thanks to Access Motion Pictures Group.)

Giraldi manages to convey both the celeb-studded electricity of south Manhattan -- where the worlds of fine dining, fashion, and art overlap in intricate human patterns-- and the more grounded backstage drama of the restaurant, where cooks, chefs, waiters, and bartenders intertwine provocatively. Despite a brief prelude and an equally short coda, the action takes place inside the restaurant on one SRO evening. The environment could have seemed cramped and claustrophic; instead, it is free, elegant, and luxurious. (It helps that the exquisite food being served will cause even the most bored mouth to water.)

An Italian eatery gone impossibly chic is the setting; owned by former bookie Louis Cropa (Danny Aiello), he pines for the golden days when the fare was simpler and more ethnically traditional. His son, Udo (Edoardo Ballerini), is now the chef and a rising star in the international culinary world -- a difference in taste and business sense which is the source of much tension between the two men. Louis, in fact, prefers his meals to be prepared by sous chef Duncan (Kirk Acevedo), who has a serious gambling problem and is having an affair with Udo's girlfriend, hostess Nicole (Vivian Wu). Louis is also trying to shake off his former illegal bookmaking activities, but a mobster on the rise, Carmen (Mike McGlone), won't let him out without a fight.

Against this backdrop, we have some wonderful scenes between the restaurant's employees and their patrons. Most notable is Summer Phoenix as Marti, an unknown painter paying the bills by waiting tables, who serves a pompous art dealer (veteran character actor Mark Margolis) and his entourage. Phoenix and Margolis dive into their sharp-witted repartee as if it were the meal itself, bouncing bon mots off the dinnerware. Equally sublime is Sandra Bernhard as art critic Jennifer Freely; a scenester desperately trying to pretend she deserves her reputation, Bernhard is more subtle and more interesting than she's ever been. As a Wall Street rube who just wanders in for dinner, John Corbett brings a welcome enthusiasm to his scenes.

Although the entire ensemble is superb, Aiello and Acevedo rise above the pack to deliver truly unforgettable performances. Aiello is one of Hollywood's most underappreciated natural resources, and this performance could easily go alongside those in Do The Right Thing, Moonstruck, and Fort Apache, The Bronx. Acevedo, perhaps best known for his knockout performance on HBO's series Oz, walks the fine line between emotional torment and restraint effortlessly.

There have been few films that capture the magic that food can bring to the human soul – I think of BABETTE'S FEAST, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, and BIG NIGHT. DINNER RUSH can easily take its place next to those fine efforts. From the first shots of vegetables grilling over the stove to Udo's towerlike shrimp-and-lobster improvisation, Giraldi has captured the timeless beauty of the well-prepared meal. It is a glorious thing to watch, and a joyful experience to have. And if it doesn't make you leave the theatre heading straight for the nearest Italian restaurant, then you probably missed the point entirely.

- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2001 Jill Cozzi and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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