Dinner Rush (Cert 15)

By ALEXANDER WALKER, Evening Standard

Sandra Bernhard, an actress whose voracious mouth seldom finds enough words to fill it, here finds something better: food.

As the demanding restaurant critic of a TriBeCa joint that is enjoying the gourmet buzz, she and her girlfriend chomp their way through à la carte platters that flatter the palate - lobster in champagne with a fettucine coronet - yet maybe don't have the bite of old, simple recipes such as "revenge is a dish best served cold".

Bob Giraldi's movie is about revenge. Once it gets going it feeds our appetites almost in real time; its achievement is creating an existential vision of culinary chaos tempered by sudden death.

Danny Aiello plays Louis, the saggyfaced owner, a meat-and-potatoes man, right now a worried one, too. His partner has been gunned down by two Mafiosi who've come to eat at the place and won't leave until they own half of it. In the kitchen, temperaments are frying, knives are out in every sense. The obsessional young chef is on a power trip. "This kitchen will not be the last refuge for misfits."

In an actual restaurant - the director's own - Dinner Rush recreates an operatic act of heightened passions, poses and impending danger. The sous-chef, a pathological gambler, owes the hoods thousands and is considering poisoning them.

A hyperactive hand-held camera twists and turns with the virtuosity of a waiter's hips. Upstairs, a prominent art dealer sprays disdain over everyone like a pressurised fire hose.

An off-duty cop dines with his wife, unaware he'll soon be flashing his badge, not his credit card. Bar the nasty last-minute surprise that comes like a hidden surcharge there are no significant extras.

It's all show: nothing more. Someone asks: "When did eating dinner become a Broadway show?" Answer: when a film-maker like Giraldi serves it up as a sub-Altman spectacle, an overlay of high-pitched confabs and simmering temperaments.

The gangsters alone, set on moving out of illegal bookmaking and into celebrity noshing, look as if they've strayed in from a more down-market movie, but they do cue Bernhard's impromptu obituary: "Only in New York could a double murder triple your business." Bon appetit.

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