A trendy Tribeca trattoria is the setting to which most of the action is confined in the debut feature from commercials director Bob Giraldi, but it’s certain that the auditoriums screening the pleasant, but ultimately fairly predictable, “Dinner Rush” won’t be as crowded as the restaurant it depicts as jammed even on a Tuesday night. Despite an attractive cast, nicely flashy cinematography by Tim Ives, and crisp editing that keeps the intricacies straight and the overall running-time to a swift 98 minutes, the script by Brian Kalata and Rick Shaughnessy is nowhere near as flavorful or imaginative as the dishes we watch being prepared and served throughout the film.
That’s basically because while it tries to put a fresh spin on things, this “Dinner” is actually made up of pretty familiar ingredients. The whole ambiance of small-time mobsterism in which Louis Cropa (Danny Aiello), an erstwhile bookmaker, presides from a side table over the restaurant he owns, is redolent of a good many past pictures (not to mention “The Sopranos”), while the brotherly antagonism between his two sons, super-chef Udo (Edoardo Ballerini) and inveterate gambler (and assistant chef) Duncan (Kirk Acevedo)–as well as the lovingly detailed sequences of food preparation–recall “Big Night,” among other flicks. But these elements are intertwined, in a narrative rife with subplots and loose ends, with a welter of other strands. Carmen (Michael McGlone), a slick gangster from Queens who’s already killed Louis’ old partner Enrico (Frank Bongiorno) and holds Duncan’s huge debts, shows up with his beefy Sicilian brother-in-law Paolo (Alex Corrado) to demand a slice of the restaurant; Fitzgerald (Mark Margolis), a rude, pretentious gallery owner arrives with a couple of hot artists, only to be waited on by Marti (Summer Phoenix), an aspiring painter; Ken (John Corbett), a garrulous brokerage type takes a slot at the bar and chums it up with the equally talky bartender Sean (Jamie Harris); Udo and Duncan both romance the establishment’s hostess Nicole (Vivian Wu); Louis begins to romance his late partner’s daughter Natalie (Polly Draper); Udo demands a partnership in the restaurant while having to deal with a snotty food critic Jennifer Freeley (Sandra Bernhard); a local cop (Walt MacPherson) shows up with his wife for dinner at Louis’ invitation. Most everything wraps up in a blood-drenched conclusion suggesting that in contemporary NYC, the whiff of violence attracts a big clientele and whets their appetite–and that Wall Street houses the deadliest sharks of all.
There’s much that’s good about “Dinner Rush.” Giraldi moves everything along swiftly and juggles the various narrative balls adeptly. Much of the cast is excellent: Aiello is restrained and effective, Ballerini charismatic, Corbett pleasantly laid-back, and some of the supporting players colorful and humorously deadpan (especially Margolis). (The major exceptions are Bernhard, whose nastiness is off-putting even in small doses, and McGlone, whose “Goodfellas” shtick is a pale imitation of the real thing.) And the skillful photography and editing keep one interested. Unfortunately, the resolution, which aims to be clever in a “Usual Suspects” sort of way, is more obvious than surprising (and a trifle implausible if the McGlone character is, to use the phrase, a “made man”).
In the final analysis, Giraldi’s film is perhaps more like the proverbial Chinese repast than the Italian cuisine it celebrates. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but not long after it’s over you’ll have an empty feeling; a lightweight piece, it’s ultimately not very filling. While it’s unspooling, though, its strengths should be enough to carry you along.