Late For Dinner Review

by Frank MALONEY (frankm AT microsoft DOT UUCP)
September 30th, 1991

[Followups directed to rec.arts.movies. -Moderator]

A film review by Frank Maloney
Copyright 1991 Frank Maloney

    LATE FOR DINNER is a film by W. D. Richter, written by Mark Andrus, starring Brian Wimmer, Peter Berg, Marcia Gay Harden, and Colleen Flynn.

    (Very minor *spoilers* follow, since I have to assume the premise of this film is unknown to the majority of you. It suddenly appeared in Seattle without any advance word, as far as I know.)

    W. D. Richter was the director of BUCKAROO BANZAI (1984). And in its way, LATE FOR DINNER is just as odd, idiosyncratic, and surprising. It is also half BACK TO THE FUTURE and half GHOST, with a touches of BLADERUNNER thrown in for the hell of it. This is a film about time travel through hibernation, a theme at least as old as the novel LOOKING BACKWARD, which was published in 1888; chances are one or more of you will write me or post an even older example. But LATE TO DINNER works here, freshly and touchingly.

    Frank, played by Peter Berg, is our narrator, and, typically of Richter, we get to see the entire movie through the eyes and perceptions of someone who was brain-damaged at birth and left with the IQ of a small child.

    He and his brother-in-law, Willie, played by Brian Wimmer (who I understand had a role on the TV series CHINA BEACH), get into some deep trouble in 1962 in Santa Fe, are aided in his own way by a slightly mad, or at least off-center, cryonics researcher, and who are accidentally and impossibly reanimated in 1991 in Pomona.

    Wimmer is the heart of the movie, which depends for its success on the success of his performance. He succeeds beautifully. I've never seen CHINA BEACH, so I'm unfamiliar with his acting. Here he's a kind, sensitive, country boy, with slightly antiquated manners, but a willingness to think the best of every situation. He is a romantic and a family man. He not only is his wife's lover, but he is also the utterly devoted father of his child. His greatest loss is the loss of decades with the two women he loves the most. He speaks with a charming down-home accent that makes him the personification of sincerity itself.
    The first half of the movie is the set-up, including a flash-back, and the BTTF future shock of encountering 1991 without having the chance to ease into it like the rest of us. Richter has a wonderful talent for making our own era look like the future to us, and it is this sequence, which has a lot of comedy in it, that we experience odd little moments right out of BLADERUNNER (very strange, totally ignored business going on the background of the main actions), at least for me. But if this is the BACK TO THE FUTURE half, it lacks the extremism and gimmicky desperation of those films, giving us instead a much more human plight, even in a fantasy context (it's hard to remember that, as one character remarks, "cryonics is a joke -- you can't freeze somebody like a piece of hamburger").

    The second half is thematically and effectively quite a different movie, the GHOST half, if you will, very romantic and not a little weepy. A feel good section, in which the main tension is not solving crimes (they were solved decades before by the wife) but rather whether the two lovers can bridge the missing years and get back together.
    It's this second half, particularly, which stands LATE FOR DINNER a chance of being another spectacular sleeper success, like GHOST. I've seen the movie twice in one weekend and both audiences ate it up. People were crying happily all over the auditorium. It is sweet and satisfying.

    And not only do we have an epic love story of sorts, but we have a beautiful friendship between the brothers-in-law, a friendship where man has to look out for and care for the other. I am a sucker for this particular story element, I have to confess.

    All the principals give first-rate performances. The two men never let up, as Lyndol remarked; their roles seem especially difficult and they never lose their characters for a moment. The two women get to demonstrate less range -- basically they're limited to shock and denial. Harden plays Joy, the long-abandoned wife who had to find her own way to the Nineties; Flynn plays Jessica, the grown daughter, who has to help ease her father back into her and her mother's lives.

    (BTW, Kyle Secor, late of DELUSION, has a small part in LATE FOR DINNER.)

    This is an odd movie and the oddest thing about it in a way is that it works. It surprises us over and over even at its romantic core; it has a easy, low-key, kind of aw-shucks sense of humor; and it was some winning performances.

    I recommend LATE FOR DINNER, even at full prices.

Frank Richard Aloysius Jude Maloney

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