Kitchen, The (United States, 2019)

August 08, 2019
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Kitchen, The Poster

The Kitchen is a scattershot, uneven attempt to tell a gritty gangster story in which three women are the primary characters. Based on the DC comics series of the same name, the movie plays like the highlight reel of a deeper, more compelling saga. With so many characters and subplots crammed into a 100-minute running time, it’s no surprise that none are given the space to gain heft. The end result is something that feels like it should have been much better than it is.

The central subject matter – three women taking over “the business” when their husbands are no longer available – recalls last year’s vastly superior Widows. Like that movie, this film shows that females can be just as strong, capable, and amoral as their male counterparts. The Kitchen, which transpires in Hell’s Kitchen during the 1970s, seeks to break gender walls and smash stereotypes and, while it admittedly accomplishes that goal, it doesn’t do much else. The story is thin and rushed, the characters are underdeveloped, and several plot twists come out of nowhere. The ending is unconvincing and unsatisfying on a fundamental level. This seems like the first chapter of a longer book – one in which quite a few pages are missing.

The movie economically establishes the setting and characters during its first ten minutes. There are three couples and assorted supporting players. Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), Kevin (James Badge Dale), and Rob (Jeremy Bobb) are enforcers for the local protection racket run by Irish mobster Little Jackie (Myk Watford). They also moonlight as robbers. When they are caught in an FBI raid led by Officer Gary Silvers (Common), they are sent to jail for three-year terms. Jimmy’s wife, Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), is devastated. Not only does she have two children to care for but she believes Jimmy is a good man at heart. Kevin’s wife, Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), isn’t crushed. Her relationships with her husband and her acerbic mother-in-law (Margo Martindale) are strained. Meanwhile, Claire (Elisabeth Moss) is relieved to be parted from Rob, who has used her as a punching bag on a regular basis.

Although Jackie promises to “take care of” the women, his “gifts” amount to less than is necessary to pay the rent. After consulting with one another and recruiting a couple of Jackie’s thugs, Kathy, Ruby, and Claire go into business for themselves, offering Jackie’s “clients” a better service than what they were getting from the gangster. When Jackie realizes the wives are poaching in his territory, he takes action. That’s when Vietnam vet Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), a once-and-future hitman, enters the picture and tips the scales toward the new order.

The best parts of The Kitchen focus on the mechanics of how Kathy, Ruby, and Claire establish themselves and build their power base. Unfortunately, perhaps because of time limitations, writer/director Andrea Berloff resorts to montage scenes set to era-appropriate pop songs. In fact, although the movie has a credited composer (Bryce Dessner), the soundtrack seems to be little more than wall-to-wall ‘70s standards. There’s nothing new about using music to enrich a period piece but Berloff’s approach is awkward and at times distracting.

The movie offers its share of amusing/shocking moments. The best of these features Gabriel and Claire falling in love as they discuss the proper procedure for dismembering and disposing of a body. It’s the kind of grisly scene that Quentin Tarantino might love. There’s also a standout stare-down featuring Kathy, a Brooklyn crime lord (Bill Camp), and a third person. The Kitchen contains its share of moments but there’s too little connective tissue between them. Many of the characters, especially the husbands and the mother-in-law, are two-dimensional and the three leads aren’t significantly better fleshed-out. The ending is problematic; not only is it too neat but it violates things we have learned about the involved characters.

My unfamiliarity with the source material makes it difficult to ascertain whether the flaws in The Kitchen are carry-overs from the comic book. The acting is solid, with Melissa McCarthy once again proving that she does her best work outside of comedies and Tiffany Haddish being a revelation in a straight, serious role. Overall, however, The Kitchen is a disappointment and, although it seeks to break genre clichés, it instead reminds us that female-centered gangster movies can be just as generic and forgettable as those featuring male characters.

Kitchen, The (United States, 2019)

Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2019-08-02
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Content)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1