One of the problems with the never-ending boom in American independent filmmaking is that certain finely made movies easily get lost in the rush. Since a few basic plots suitable for low budget treatment tend to be recycled or combined with monotonous predictability, it is difficult for an aspiring filmmaker to make his or her mark.
It is easy to reduce Dinner Rush to the sum of its familiar elements. It concerns an Italo-American family, a restaurant and food rituals, like The Big Night (1996). There is an underworld intrigue, courtesy of The Sopranos. Many characters and story threads are packed into the same evening and the same location, as in a Robert Altman film.
But Dinner Rush has a sureness of touch which is rare in current American independent cinema. Director Bob Giraldi assembles a fine, diverse cast (including Vivian Wu and Sandra Bernhard) and choreographs the multitude of overlapping actions skilfully. The script by Brian Kalata and Rich Shaughnessy juggles standard dramatic issues (honour, loyalty, obsession, revenge), but moves from dark to light moods with ease.
Some elements do not gel. Danny Aiello's odd mannerisms, such as seeming to be talking to three people when he is only addressing one, go uncontrolled. Giraldi is a little too fond of tricks like blurred focus, slow-motion and gratuitous camera swipes to give the essentially talky scenes extra zip. And the surprise ending cuts too many threads too quickly. But this is an enjoyable and impressive effort from a director who made waves first in the 1970s as a glossy TV ad director, then in the '80s – with his famous clip for Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (1983) and the spirited teen movie Hiding Out (1987) – and whose parallel career as a restaurateur subsequently intersected with the boom in food-cooking shows on global television.
© Adrian Martin November 2002