“The Kitchen” attempts to tell a familiar mob story with a gender flip that underlines how the promise of the American Dream relates to women instead of to their male counterparts. This attempt falls apart as the movie coasts on stylish 1970s costuming and on-the-nose song choices with an extreme deficit in both character development and relatable storytelling. Mob movies and crime thrillers are meant to parody the competitive nature of capitalism with extreme rewards and consequences for those who want to skirt the rules. “The Kitchen” glosses over these concerns in favor of a middling girl-power message.
Based on a graphic novel by DC Comics’ adult-themed imprint “Vertigo,” this story focuses on the three New York wives of Irish mobsters in 1978 Hell’s Kitchen. After a job goes wrong and their husbands are sent to prison, Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss) are forced to pick up the pieces of the operation to keep food on the table for their families and lawful employment in New York City is at a historical low. They soon realize that if they are going to shake down bodegas and compete with the other thugs in their neighborhood, they’ll have to get rid of a lot of men that are standing in their way, including some of the men that they’re closest to.
I first got the sinking feeling that this was a missed opportunity when these characters go from planning their first robbery to a lazy montage that ends with them counting stacks of $100 bills in their apartment. The day-to-day procedure of their illegal operation is barely addressed, and the necessary groundwork to build tension is skimmed as the ladies ascend from goal to goal. Bodies accumulate and people get whacked left and right, but every scene in which our protagonists are discussing their work is reduced to bland expository dialogue that functions only to transition us to the next scene. For as violent and explicit as this movie often is, it’s also surprisingly boring.
Elizabeth Moss is given the most character work to explore as an abused wife who becomes the cold-blooded killer of the group, learning how to chop up bodies in the bathtub with her new boyfriend, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Her arc feels the most complete and considered, as McCarthy and Haddish glide through the movie without much in the way of motivation or pathos.
“The Kitchen” wastes three talented actresses and a great premise on a labored screenplay that plods from joyless plot point to plot point. The scene work by director Andrea Berloff is flat, and the performances are largely reduced to goofy New York accents. The film becomes slightly more interesting toward the third act when these women are finally confronted with their rash decisions, but even then, the story averts compelling complications and decides to play it safe.
Cassidy Robinson is a former Idaho State University student with a master’s degree in film studies from Orange County’s Chapman University. He is currently working as a media journalist in Los Angeles, California.