Color, 1991, 99m.
Directed by W.D. Richter
Starring Peter Berg, Brian Wimmer, Marcia Gay Harden, Peter Gallagher, Cassy Friel
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD-R) (US R1 NTSC)
A good example of a film discovered almost entirely thanks to the VHS market in the early '90s, Late for Dinner was barely given a theatrical release by Columbia Pictures before shuttling off to home video through various labels as part of the Castle Rock library. This was the second (and last, to date) directorial project for W.D. Richter, who had helmed The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension three years earlier. That film eventually found a major cult following, but this follow up still remains a word-of-mouth favorite that still hasn't received its full due.
In early '60s Santa Fe, Willie (Wimmer) and his wife, Joy (Harden), are fending off the attempts of an unscrupulous land baron, Bob Freeman (Gallagher), who isn't above breaking the law to swipe their home way from them. Into the mix comes Joy's brother, Frank (Berg), who isn't all there mentally speaking and has an unorthodox reaction when the pair become involved in a deadly altercation and seem to be framed for murder: he agrees to let a nutty scientist freeze them cryogenically for nearly three decades. Upon awakening in the early '90s, they soon find they not only have to adjust to living in completely alien time period but have to deal with the fact that Wilie's wife and daughter are now much older and possibly different people entirely by now.
A fascinating character, Richter had started off as a screenwriter in Hollywood with projects like Nickelodeon, Brubaker, and the big-budget late '70s spins on Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dracula, which in turn led to the gig co-writing his most famous cult film, Big Trouble in Little China, for director John Carpenter. Once again he does some genre juggling here, creating a film that's sci-fi around the edges but basically a warm romantic tale at heart with a quirky sense of humor. The real hook here is the idea of how the married couple will deal with their reunion now that they're separated by a huge age gap, and both Wimmer and Harden pull off the key final third of the film with expert precision. There's really no way this was ever going to be a major box office hit thanks to its sheer oddness and the lack of showy special effects, but it could have been far more notable on the indie circuit had the distributor gone that way. Instead it took its time to gradually find admirers thanks to those VHS copies and occasional TV airings, with its sole DVD release to date being a lackluster MGM-on-demand DVD-R pulled from the old open matte transfer created decades earlier.
A far better option for Blu-ray consumers is the Kino Lorber release, which is still bare bones (that catchy video trailer has got to be floating around out there somewhere) but features a dramatically improved new HD transfer restoring the film's intended 1.85:1 framing for the first time on home video. (Widescreen versions can also be found via iTunes and Netflix if you don't mind a heck of a lot more compression.) The dusty, warm-hued look of the film is nicely retained here with solid detail throughout and no significant issues to speak of. Fans should be very pleased, and the DTS-HD MA track accurately replicates the film's original Dolby Stereo mix including a nice, subdued score by David Mansfield (Heaven's Gate). If you want a great date movie with a weird slant that's not quite like anything else out there, take a chance on this one.