The Movie Waffler 1001 Overlooked Movies - <i>Dinner Rush</i> (2000) | The Movie Waffler

1001 Overlooked Movies - Dinner Rush (2000)

Drama set during the course of a hectic evening in a New York restaurant.

Directed by: Bob Giraldi
Starring: Danny Aiello, Edoardo Ballerini, John Rothman, Vivian Wu, Sandra Bernhard, Frank Bongiorno

Bob Giraldi’s Dinner Rush is the only feature he’s directed in the past two decades. He made one feature film prior, the little-remembered Hiding Out with Jon Cryer and Annabeth Gish, but his most famous work was as a commercial and music video director, Michael Jackson’s Beat It probably the most well-known. At the end of the eighties though, he left the film business entirely, and became a restaurateur in New York (He's started dipping his toe into short films in recent years however).
Dinner Rush was filmed in his own restaurant in Tribeca. When originally released, it was a small but little-seen independent film, but it was relatively well-received; Richard Roeper even ranked it on his yearly Ten Best List, but it’s become more of a personal film for others, myself and my family included. My mom loved it so much that we ending up buying a copy to show friends and family whenever they came by. This is one of those little movie gems of ours, one that got overlooked from and since its release, and I have great pleasure in introducing it to others who missed it entirely.
Sure, there are other films about restaurants, the most famous American one is probably Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s Big Night, which is also about a family-owned Italian restaurant, but that’s about two brothers trying to save their fledgling restaurant. It’s a great movie, but it’s a little predictable; Dinner Rush, on the other hand, isn’t that simple; there’s so much more going on, and it’s a film made by foodies for foodies, as it combines the more traditional aspects of an Italian family drama, and yes that includes mobsters, with the more modern sly and subversive look at the celebrity chef culture that was only starting to take shape when the film was made, but has since exploded, and that’s only two of the film’s many subplots. It actually borders on Altmanesque at certain points.
With the exception of a beginning prologue, the film takes place entirely on what seems like a typically packed Tuesday night at the hip Tribeca eatery. The owner, Louis Cropa (Aiello) has owned the place for decades, where he’s also run a bookmaking operation for years. His longtime partner Enrico (Bongiorno) was just recently killed. His son Udo (Ballerini, who strangely, possibly coincidentally, looks strikingly similar to the famous NY chef Rocco DiSpirito) is the chef of the restaurant now, and has changed the menu from a more traditional Italian place to Nuevo Italian Cuisine, which at the least, annoys his father. Udo’s sous-chef Duncan (Kirk Acevedo from TV’s Oz)  actually sneaks into the kitchen and prepares sausage and peppers for Louis to eat every night. Duncan is an obsessive gambler, deeply in debt to Louis as well as two Queens mobsters known as “Black and Blue” (Alex Corrado and Mike McGlome), both of whom are coming to the restaurant that night. Also complicating things is that both Udo and Duncan are fucking the restaurant’s hostess, Nicole (Wu). As the night wears on actually, there’s a running count of how many people are upstairs that Udo has slept with.
The beautiful muted colors of the dining room, which looks even better, strangely enough, when the lights are out, is in complete contrast to the hectic chaos of the kitchen, where somebody can get fired by Udo without any warning. He can then suddenly turn on the charm and play the role of “Star Chef” when a famous food critic (a pitch-perfect Bernhard), who by the way, Udo has also slept with, suddenly walks in, along with a notorious local foodie nicknamed the “Food Nymph” (Sophie Comet), for multiple obvious reasons.
The contrast between the old-time mobster world and the Nuevo world of upscale celebrity is at constant odds in this film, never more apparent than when a noted museum owner, Fitzgerald (Mark Margolis), walks in with some famous artists and immediately begins groaning and arrogantly berating the staff and his shy waitress (Summer Phoenix, Joaquin and River’s sister), and then spends the whole time discussing and trashing the art work that hangs on the walls. He’s at one of the top restaurants in all of New York City, and all he talks about is the artwork in the restaurant; that’s like going to a museum gallery opening, and discussing the food tray.
I still haven’t even scratched the surface of all the action that takes place during the movie, like a Wall Street banker (John Corbett) who spends the night at the bar with an English Bartender with a photographic memory (Jamie Harris), an NYC detective (Walt MacPherson) who’s very suspicious of how he suddenly got reservations to this place when most of the customers wait months for them, and there’s Louis’s personal struggles with his old partner’s daughter (Polly Draper), who’s still angry at him.
All this, put together, even without a particular plot, creates a wonderful mosaic of characters that could easily have filled many movies. This is where the acting comes in, there’s not a lot of time for the characters to establish themselves, yet, once they all walk into frame, we have to know exactly who they are as characters. This is not an easy thing to do; most performances are about characters that change over the length of the film. Instead, they have to be convincing as who they are, the minute we see them on screen; this is a great achievement.
The movie does end with a cliché, one that most Italians would never actually screw up, but it can get away with it because we’ve gotten so invested in the characters that even the faintest hint of closure seems believable, if only in that moment. One character observes during the movie, “When did eating dinner become a Broadway show?”. I think that is a good question, but what’s more amazing is how it can become such a wonderful film.

David Baruffi
For more from David, visit his site, David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews