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Special at Alice's Diner: a good `Hard Scrambled'

October 13, 2006|Kevin Thomas | Special to The Times

"Hard Scrambled" marks an encouraging feature debut for writer-director David Scott Hay. Although a minor item more suited to home viewing than theatrical, it is anchored by a powerful performance by the veteran Kurtwood Smith in the film's well-written central role.

Smith's Benno is an ex-prizefighter and ex-con who some time ago made a new life for himself as the chief cook at a diner owned by Alice (Beth Grant), a tough but sometimes tender middle-aged woman. An incident at a party celebrating the 25th anniversary of Alice's Diner results in her hospitalization, disrupting the lives not only of Benno but also his deliveryman pal Joe (Richard Edson) and Benno's young assistant Scotty (Eyal Podell).

Benno is determined to hold on to the life he has and is even prepared to buy Alice out should she want to sell. However, the far-from-bright yet opportunistic Joe, stuck in a miserable marriage and a boring job, is scheming to become the diner's next owner. Scotty, who initially had come to the diner to rob it, only to be disarmed by Alice and put to work, knows that should the mistrustful Joe take over he would be out of a job.

None of these people, including Alice, are quite what they have seemed to each other, and in varying ways they are desperate characters, prone to delusion and treachery. Hay effectively evokes the fragility of their situations and their temptation to take risky shortcuts. If Hay's style tends to the theatrical, his use of flashbacks, aided by Edie Ichioka's sharp editing and Matthew Heckerling's resourceful camera work, is entirely cinematic, revealing his clever way with plotting.

Some of Hay's dialogue rings callow, but his pacing improves as the film unfolds, building tension and setting the stage for surprises. The film's biggest drawback, beyond its talkiness, is the overly broad doofus characterization Hay demands of Edson. Podell and Grant, however, lend Smith solid support. Also on hand is Alanna Ubach as a waitress eager to teach Scotty what she has learned from the Kama Sutra.


'Hard Scrambled'

MPAA rating: Unrated. Brief strong violence, brief nudity, strong language, adult themes.

A New Visions Fellowship release. Writer-director David Scott Hay. Producers Erik Bauer, James P. Mercurio. Cinematographer Matthew Heckerling. Supervising editor Edie Ichioka. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fine Arts, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 360-0455.

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