...wickedly funny as she spews forth perfectly articulated insults that pierce the customers’pretensions.


  An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

    Now we know what goes on at seven o’clock in the kitchens of New York restaurants.  The Dinner Rush opens with a marvelous slow motion collage of the chef and his staff cutting, slicing, chopping, and wielding frying pans—professionals at fever pitch.  They make good food.  And director Bob Giraldi and his team have made a terrific movie.

                This is their New York: the signs, bicycles, and jackhammers of narrow alleys in falling snow.  New Yorkers who need a new discovery each month have found the restaurant Gigino Trattoria and its chef, Udo Cropa (Edoardo Ballerini), who is the son of the owner, Louis Cropa (Danny Aiello).  Udo has his hands full this evening.  A make or break restaurant critic (Sandra Bernhard) is in the balcony, and the gambling debt of assistant cook Duncan (Kirk Acevedo) has brought the Mafia in for dinner.  The place boils with the social competition that flourishes among New Yorkers whose status is keyed to their opinions on food and art.  Udo cooks, disciplines, and teaches while dealing with the relentless politics of his staff and patrons.

Louis doesn’t like his son’s esoteric concoctions.  His own dinner, sausages and peppers, comes straight from the hands of Duncan whose duty is to keep the owner’s food the way it used to be. “Give me some food I can eat!  When did eating dinner become a Broadway show?”  Tonight, Udo asks his father for part ownership of the place based on his success, a success so great that Dad no longer has to run a numbers game from the back room.  In a gleeful rush of understanding, we realize that the genial Louis is a conductor in full control of his noisy orchestra.

                Dinner Rush has been made with loving hands.  Louis DiGiaimo cast the actors who worked for nearly nothing.  Danny Aiello, trying hard not to steal the screen from his colleagues, can’t quite help doing just that.  Edoardo Ballerini is fine as the determined, driven son, but the movie gets a real lift from actress Summer Phoenix who runs away with a small, meaty part.  Enjoy her rising star.  As Marti, master waitress and painter of the portraits that adorn the restaurant wall, Ms. Phoenix is wickedly funny as she spews forth perfectly articulated insults that pierce the customers’ pretensions.  The singular exception to all this high quality is Sandra Bernhard who is such an exaggerated self-parody as the restaurant critic that we have to look away in embarrassment.   It is a grievous casting error. 

Here, all in one place, on one night, are the cultural pretenders, the Mafia, and a restaurant dynasty.  Upstairs, the customers indulge their various appetites while downstairs, in controlled pandemonium, Udo directs the best cooking ballet you will probably ever see.  For an hour we have soaked up the emotional and physical ingredients of a NewYork kitchen.  Then, in a glorious burst, the problems of the diners and cooks are spun up into hilarious resolution. 


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