“The Kitchen” needs a remodel.
You walk into the movie excited for a few laughs from comedy powerhouses Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish amid their mobster plot, and maybe some tears courtesy of Elisabeth Moss. But this humorless, sadistically violent wreck has not a single satisfying second. It does, however, have more than 50 F-bombs.
The title, which comes from the comic-book series the film is based on, has a dual meaning: the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood where the story is set and the room where piggish men think women belong. “The Kitchen” endeavors to prove said swine wrong.
It’s 1978, and the wives of three Irish mobsters are forced to take over the family business when the boys are sent to the clink. Each of the three ladies is defined by just one element of their lives: Claire (Moss) is abused, Kathy (McCarthy) is a mom and Ruby (Haddish) is unpleasant. Together they form the worst wives club, a group of actresses with zero chemistry or investment in their script, bad as it is.
At first, the women are laughed off by their husbands’ henchmen, but gradually, they’re able to secure loyalty (and cash) from neighborhood businesses in exchange for protection.
Their dealings are full of damaging stereotypes, such as a money-obsessed Hasidic diamond dealer and smooth-talking Italian mafia bosses. Kathy even has a waitress pour whisky in her coffee.
The film also nauseatingly attempts some Tarantino-type shocks. Many characters are gruesomely shot in full view, and Moss is kneed in the stomach repeatedly. In one gross scene, her character is taught to dismember a body to be thrown in the river. We get to hear the snapping of the corpse’s arm.
Much of the fault lies with director Andrea Berloff, making her directorial debut.
The comic books are stylized with deep colors and dangerous noir energy, but Berloff’s film is one of the most pallid and bland screen depictions of 1970s New York in recent memory.
McCarthy, Haddish and Moss, in the past, have lifted otherwise crummy movies with their forceful personalities. But this marks some of the worst work from all three of them to date. Haddish, in particular, waltzes around half grinning like she’s just been shot by a tranquilizer dart.
Based on the repeated calling of attention to gender, “The Kitchen” would seem to be a belabored exercise in third-wave feminism. But if what that movement has come to is “See? Women can be murderous thugs, too!,” then it’s time for some re-branding.
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