Danny Aiello always has warmth and a sense of security as an actor. When he has a role as perfect a fit as Louis Cropa, the proprietor of a TriBeCa restaurant in "Dinner Rush," he is a special joy to behold, revealing one layer of character after another.
From the start, the film's co-producer Louis DiGiaimo and director Bob Giraldi--a successful New York restaurateur himself--could envision only Aiello as the star in a script originally set in Chicago by writers Rich Shaughnessy and Brian Kalata. No wonder, for Aiello knows how to hold back and not telegraph anything. That's absolutely essential in a dark comedy as deliciously misleading as "Dinner Rush."
The filmmakers allow us to feel we've seen it all before: a tale set in one evening in a busy restaurant where everything that could possibly go wrong does. For much of the way "Dinner Rush" is content to offer the familiar pleasures of the classic New York movie: a human scale; a sharp, witty edge; actors cast for talent rather than glamour. Meanwhile, "Dinner Rush" piles on the complications to the point of overdoing it, only to reveal at the climactic moment that this is but a ploy--that in the wholly unpredictable way everything plays out, the picture makes perfect sense. Its writers and director are making their feature debut, but Giraldi's experience in award-winning commercials and music videos surely contributes to making "Dinner Rush" a triumph of structure and pace. Shaughnessy brings to the film a strong background in documentaries, and Kalata, a former lawyer, has been a comedy writer and performer.
Subtlety is Aiello's forte, and this quality ever so gradually permeates the entire film. At first, calamity--including murder and a power outage--seems the order of the day. The key source of trouble is the compulsive gambling of the trattoria's sous-chef Duncan (Kirk Acevedo), whose indebtedness has brought in the unwelcome menace of a couple of wise guys (Mike McGlone and Alex Corrado) from Queens.
Duncan is also having an affair with the head waitress Nicole (Hong Kong star Vivian Wu), but she understandably also attracts Louis' surly son, Udo (Edoardo Ballerini), who runs the kitchen with an iron hand and has transformed an Italian family restaurant into a jampacked trendy spot with his nouvelle cuisine menu.
Among the restaurant's key customers are a nasty, important art gallery owner (Mark Margolis, in a terrific satirical portrayal) and an all-powerful restaurant critic (a wonderful Sandra Bernhard), whose true identity is unsuccessfully hidden under a bad wig.
Udo takes on the challenge of trying to please her but also attracts her slinky, opportunistic girlfriend (Sophie Comet). Other key figures are Summer Phoenix as a conscientious waitress and aspiring artist; Frank Bongiorno as Louis' prescient partner of 25 years; Polly Draper as Bongiorno's daughter, with whom the widowed Louis has a late-night date; John Rothman as Louis' loyal attorney; and John Corbett as a Wall Street type who hangs out at the bar.
Effortlessly graceful and burnished to a glow, "Dinner Rush" is surely as satisfying as any of the delicious-looking food served at Louis' restaurant--and is as full of surprises as any dish Udo ever concocted.
MPAA rating: R, for language, some violence and sexuality. Times guidelines: Despite its comic aspects, the film is also quite intense.
Danny Aiello: Louis Cropa
Edoardo Ballerini: Udo Cropa
Vivian Wu: Nicole
Kirk Acevedo: Duncan
Sandra Bernhard: Jennifer Freely
An Access Motion Picture Group release of an Entertainment Capital Group presentation of a Giraldi Suarez DiGiaimo production. Director Bob Giraldi. Producers Patti Greaney, Louis DiGiaimo. Executive producers Phil Suarez, Robert Cheren, Robert Steuer, Michael Baumohl. Screenplay Rick Shaughnessy and Brian Kalata. Cinematographer Tim Ives. Editor Allyson C. Johnson. Music Alexander Lasarenko. Costumes Constance Pavlounis. Production designer Andrew Bernard. Set decorator Ondine Karady.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
At selected theaters.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun