RESTAURANT marks one of the most confused dispatches yet concerning America's great failure: race. Confusion in itself is not a bad thing -- it's merely the admittance that certain ideas or problems are too multifaceted to be grasped. Properly concealed, it can approximate a sense of complexity (as in the films of John Ford); honestly owned up to, it can make for a daring explosion of give-and-take arguments (Spike Lee, for instance). But if confusion passes itself off as knowledge, you get cheap sentimentality, embarrassing juxtapositions, and a hopeless, self-contradictory mess of a movie. You get Restaurant.

Adrien Brody stars as Chris, a would-be playwright and more successful drunk who pays bills by bartending. His co-workers at the establishment run the predictable scale -- from the raucous, party-boy kitchen staff to Jeannine (Elise Neal), the sweet, sensitive African American newcomer who wants to be a singer, and inevitably catches Chris' eye. The tenuous nature of workplace camaraderie can make for fine situations, but the filmmakers have bigger fish to fry -- in this case, Chris' role as the Understanding White Liberal, sticking up for black co-workers denied advancement, and attracted to Jeannine in part because of her race.

That's bad enough, but then the confusion sets in. Is Chris just self-consciously trying to exorcise memories of his racist father? Is he as good as he seems? He, and we, suffer through lectures on this from his friends, both black and white. Eventually, via a rather contrived plot twist, his bitterness boils up and the black employees stand in a neat line, silently judging him. The tone of self-pity -- contributed to by the demeanor of Brody, whose lank frame and large puppy-dog eyes always have a touch of martyr-in-waiting about them -- smacks of autobiography, as does Chris' play, which is based on his previous relationship. One hopes that director Eric Bross and writer Tom Cudworth have been able to move on to a better place after finishing this therapeutic exercise, but there was no reason for them to drag us along with them.

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