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Late For Dinner
Late For Dinner is the second directorial effort from W.D. Richter, whose first directorial effort was the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension!, a hilarious and charming bit of sci-fi insanity. It was also his last directorial effort, probably because Late For Dinner is pretty terrible for at least an hour and ten minutes of its 90-minute running time. There's a wonderfully oddball premise in the script about a husband who disappears unexpectedly, then reappears 29 years later looking like he hasn't aged a day. Sadly, it's wasted on an endless, aggravating set-up, none of which turns out to be important once the boys make their trip into the future. Whatever it was that Richter saw in the screenplay by Mark Andrus isn't evident in the execution, which is awful save for the film's surprisingly emotional home stretch.
The primary source of aggravation is Peter Berg as Frank. Berg is not necessarily to blame -- the character as he plays it could've been there on the page -- but Frank is so relentlessly stupid, so incredibly and utterly clueless, that he honestly seems like a five-year-old child. Before seeing the film, I wondered how the characters would end up cryogenically frozen, which is a conundrum the finished film doesn't really find a way to solve. Not only does Andrus lean on Frank's nearly alien cluelessness (and Willie's complete unconsciousness) in order for Dr. Chilblains to successfully lure the two into the freezing chamber, but he and Richter are still not confident that sells it, resulting in Berg's character explaining the entire first 30 minutes in voice-over. Every moment of this narration explains what's happening on screen, which makes it seem like a last-ditch effort to avoid showing scenes that didn't work. Furthermore, on top of even that, the story in this section involves a convoluted semi-kidnapping plot constructed to get Willie and Frank into a field with Bob pointing a gun at them, which in and of itself is unnecessary. The end result that Andrus wants is that Willie has a potentially fatal injury, which could just as easily have been explained in a fraction of the time without any other characters.
Tonally, the film is just as disjointed. What Richter clearly wants to do is throw back to the days of old Hollywood, when romances were sweeping and sentimental. Sadly, he has no idea how to get there without all of the unnecessary detours in Andrus' script, which takes shortcuts through wacky and stupid in attempts to be a romantic drama. The Bob Freeman subplot does nothing but add a bit of cynicism that taints the whole "1960s Americana" vibe (no reason to be nostalgic for a time the film doesn't paint an evocatively rosy picture of), the goofy gags about blue piss and ATM machines are both dumb and discordant, and the constant contrivances don't end with the non-kidnapping. After that endless 30 minutes getting the characters to the present, the film then wastes another 20 as they slowly realize they're in 1991. One-third of a movie is too long to wait for a film to set up its premise, much less two. (The one highlight: a very young Janeane Garofalo as a fast food clerk.)
That said, when the movie finally gets to the place it's trying to go -- the reunion of Willie with his previously tiny daughter (Cassy Friel in 1962, Colleen Flynn in 1991), and his wife Jay -- there is a surprise chunk of the movie that works. Not only does the movie finally sideline Frank for a little while, giving Wimmer's low-key charm a chance to take over, but Wimmer has good support in Flynn and Harden, who capture the confusing rush of emotions at seeing Willie again after so many years. Had the film spent its first half really letting the audience learn to love Willie and Jay as much as they love each other, and spent the second half watching them find their footing, this could have been a fun little sci-fi-tinged fairy tale of a movie. Instead, by the time Willie and Jay finally unite, the movie is almost over, having used up too much energy trying to explain conceits the audience has come in ready to accept. Despite having made a film about the sadness of lost time, the filmmakers don't seem to have taken their own movie to heart.
Late For Dinner arrives in a standard Viva Elite Blu-ray case with its original 1991 poster art mostly intact, although the tagline has been removed to make sure the design of the poster is preserved. The single-disc release otherwise utilizes Kino's black-text-on-white backdrop template and there is no insert inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, this is a very nice presentation for fans of the film to enjoy. Grain and fine detail are surprisingly strong for a forgotten early '90s comedy, with no signs of irritating noise reduction or sharpening. Colors feel a touch flattened or washed-out, but that could also be an intentional adjustment to give the film more of a Normal Rockwell kind of appearance. Very minor print damage is visible in the form of white specks that pop in from time to time, but it's a quibble at best. The stereo sound presentation is more than enough to handle this film, which is light on wild sci-fi action and more focused on dialogue and character moments, which are reproduced faithfully. The film's soundtrack sounds nice and the overall listening experience is pleasant, if not deeply immersive. Sadly, no captions or subtitles are included.
None, not even a trailer.
Unlike Buckaroo Banzai, I'm afraid Late For Dinner is not a lost masterpiece. This messy film is dragged down by an awful screenplay that eats away at the movie's chances to tell its story right, forcing director W.D. Richter and his cast to cram in a bit of charm into the last 20 minutes. Skip it.
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