Dinner Rush (2000)


Dinner Rush, a movie set almost entirely in a trendy New York City Italian restaurant over a single evening, is a joy to watch in its wonderful artistry. The writers, Brian S. Kalata and Rick Shaughnessy, and the director (sadly, only an occasional director over the years), Bob Giraldi, have fashioned a perfectly unified, brilliantly peopled, beautifully formed drama of change manifested in brief but telling comparisons and contrasts–old peoples’ sense of being bypassed; fathers versus sons; myopic established critics versus rising new talent; old versus new cuisine; aging Mafiosi versus hungry young New York City punks; abstract painting versus portraiture; reserved marketing versus tabloid notoriety; Wall Street mendacity versus old-fashioned strong-armed organized crime (with a surprise winner shown at the end of the movie); and informal versus formal pursuit of justice, to cite many guises of this drama about Tennyson’s swan, that lovely creature which, after many summers, passes: your general attitude about this depends on your age at the moment: Swans are beautiful versus We don’t have those around here, do we?

In Dinner Rush, thematically it turns out that old is wise but young is right. Since Dinner Rush is a moral tale, it also ensues that graceful, protective disengagement by the elderly (not absolute retirement) is estimable.

Meanwhile, you enjoy a very satisfying, iconoclastic skewering of pompous celebrity art and cuisine critics; you laugh at a subtle running gag about personality types in the Financial Sector; you are reminded again of possessive love’s labors lost to passionate love among the young. And though it is subordinated to the theme, you learn much fascinating about the running of a superb restaurant for which ordinarily reservations must be made three months in advance. The Chef de Cuisine; the Sous-Chef; the Fish Chef; the Fry Chef; and so on. And you see the wild operation in the kitchen–a frenzy of cooking–to send up perfect dinners for 250 dining customers. It’s everything you don’t see on Check, Please!

Danny Aiello is Louis Cropa, an aging, seemingly likely mafioso who owns the restaurant, has a bookmaking operation combined with it, is increasingly a staunch conservative about cuisine (he likes traditional Italian), and hears the winged chariot: he’s about to retire from the restaurant business. Some punks from the nouveau version of organized crime try to muscle in on his business. Cropa resolves the problem in a single evening in the restaurant. That’s the story frame. Inside that frame, a lot of dramas take place, all of which tie in to the main storyline. It’s superb art.

Finally, Dinner Rush is a suspense movie which invites you to recognize some very subtle and brilliant clues which reveal its surprising ending. They slip past quickly, though they are not unfairly obscured. This movie is not only serious but great fun to unravel. And it is intended to be such.

Here are some enjoyments for you as Interpretive Detective when watching this masterful movie:

-The Art Critic, “Fitzgerald,” played superbly by Art Margolis (who looks like Ron Paul–see whether you agree), reveals in a few scattered moments everything wrong with celebrity-chasing “gatekeepers.” (Note, for example, that he progressively lies about how long he and his party are kept waiting for a table.) Jennifer Freely, the Cuisine Critic, comes off a little better. Not too much better, though.

-The Wall Street Investor, “Ken Roloff” (reflect on that name), is a predator who wants to be on the hunt day and night. He’s already got money. It’s not really about money.

-Louis Cropa says that when he took care of business in his younger years, he never had to hold a gun in his hand to do so. Keep that in mind.

-Nicole likes Duncan more than she likes Duncan’s boss, Cropa’s son and genius Chef de Cuisine, Udo Cropa, because Duncan doesn’t care about the freezing cold and snow. Later, a server tells the cuisine critic, Jennifer Freely, that Udo, an accomplished person, basically is in love with himself and his culinary art. Nicole’s choice, therefore, is no surprise.

-A box of poison which “Kills Rats” is perfectly apt.

-Roloff tells a lovely stranger who sits next to him at the bar, detects from the striping on his tie that he probably works on The Street, and asks him for investment advice: “Save your money.” He’s been drinking rye and soda. He’s giving friendly and honest advice.

-Louis and long-standing friends reminisce about the old days when mobsters had names like “Jimmy the Ears” and “Charlie Provolone.” Eventually, one of the threatening young punk extortionists receives such a name.

-One of the servers is an Unknown Young Artist. In an early scene, before you know she is a painter, she irritably moves some stacked dining furniture which is blocking one of her portraits hanging on a wall of the restaurant.

There are many more such fleeting inspirations of imposed unity on this admirably composed story.

I watched it twice. I hate to admit it, but I knew I was only “subliminally” aware of more than a few of those inspirations the first time around. Which is as it should be. But then you become curious about the art you appreciated so effortlessly.

I think you’ll have fun stepping into Dinner Rush.