A gem of a small film that was largely unseen upon theatrical release earlier this year, "Dinner Rush" is a highly entertaining and well-acted feature that takes place over one night at an Italian restaurant in New York City. Danny Aiello stars as Louis, the owner of the restaurant who is thinking about handing the place over to his son, Udo (Edoardo Ballerini). Still, Louis worries about his son's new choice of dishes, which are well-liked, but not traditional or substancial.
Duncan (Kirk Acevedo) also works in the kitchen and tries to incorporate some additional tranditional cooking in, even though it's difficult to slip any ideas in with the demanding way that Udo runs the kitchen, which includes firing a line cook for a minor fault. Meanwhile, both Duncan and Udo are trying to romance the restaurant's hostess (Vivian Wu). That's certainly not all - Louis's partner got himself into some trouble and now two mobsters want a piece of the restaurant business, an important food critic (Sandra Bernhard being Sandra Bernhard) shows up, as does an art gallery owner and his entourage. Some of the plot threads are not entirely original, but the way they are presented here makes them feel fresh.
And that's really just the beginning. A marvelous small film from director Bob Giraldi (who owns the restaurant this film was film in), the director keeps track of several different story threads at once quite superbly, while balancing out the stories wonderfully, so none of them are thin or underdeveloped. The performances (especially Aiello, Ballerini, John Corbett and quite a few others) are convincing, passionate and enjoyable. No one in this cast gives a performance that's less than very good. Given the director's knowledge of operating a restaurant, the picture's hectic appearance feels, looks and sounds realistic (those also looking for a behind-the-scenes portrait of how a restaurant works should read Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential").
The film is technically excellent, too. Tim Ives's cinematography is perfect, smoothly throughout the restaurant and capturing the controlled chaos of the night with ease. Allyson C. Johnson ("Monsoon Wedding")'s editing is also excellent. The food is also beautifully prepared and when shown, made me quite hungry. Powerful, dramatic, occasionally funny and often surprising, I wish I could have seen "Dinner Rush" before now. Lead by Aiello's fantastic performance, I definitely found "Dinner Rush" very enjoyable.
VIDEO: "Dinner Rush" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame. Both editions are presented on a dual-layer disc. The picture quality starts off a little bit inconsistent, but once the main dinner sequence starts, the picture quality settles in very nicely. Sharpness and detail are generally quite good, even though the restaurant's scenes have somewhat dim lighting.
As noted before, the picture does suffer from a few minor faults in the early going (a couple of specks here and there, a trace or two of pixelation), but once things settle in, the presentation looks quite nice. For the majority of the film, the print looks crisp and clean, with no marks or scratches. Edge enhancement is not an issue, either.
The film's warm color palette remained rich and well-saturated, with no smearing or other issues. Black level also remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. Aside from a few minimal concerns, this is a fine effort from New Line.
SOUND: "Dinner Rush" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While a smaller film and a mostly dialogue-driven picture, the 5.1 soundtrack is an unexpected joy. The scenes in the restaurant could have focused mainly on the dialogue, but there is a constant layer of ambience offered by the surrounds that really puts the viewer in the middle of the setting. The pleasant score is also nicely presented, filling out the front speakers well, while also not getting in the way of the ambient sounds or dialogue.
EXTRAS: Trailers for "Dinner Rush", "Simone" (another good movie coming out in January), "Human Nature" and "Knockaround Guys".
Final Thoughts: I'm surprised that "Dinner Rush" didn't catch on and round up a larger audience theatrically. Aiello's performance is terrific and the direction and writing is first-rate. New Line's DVD is unfortunately lacking in supplements, but offers fine audio/video quality. Highly recommended and at least worth looking at as a rental.