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Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Kitchen

The Kitchen has the misfortune of coming out less than a year after Widows, a much better movie with the same idea of the wives of criminals taking over for their husbands.  It also has the extreme misfortune of being a very bad movie.  This is a deadly-dull crime thriller that not even the performances of the three lead actresses can lift up.

With talent like Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elizabeth Moss involved, you would think there would be more of an effort.  The movie also marks the directing debut of screenwriter Andrea Berloff, who in 2015, gave us the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Straight Outta Compton.  This time, she's taking inspiration from the DC comic book series written by Ollie Masters.  All of these elements should prove successful, but they never do.  There is a hollowness to the storytelling here, with characters who don't connect (not with each other, and not to the audience).  Also, the movie seems to be rushing through its own premise, almost as if it was as excited to get itself over with as much as I was.  It never stops long enough to dig deep into its own ideas, instead throwing out a lot of montages set to hit songs of the 1970s.  Sure, the movie is set in 1978's Hell's Kitchen, but that doesn't mean it has to stop every few minutes to toss another song from the era on the soundtrack.

The plot centers on the three wives of some New York gangsters who end up getting three years in prison after attempting to pull a job that I don't quite understand how it was supposed to be successful in the first place.  The women are Kathy (McCarthy), Ruby (Haddish) and Claire (Moss), and they are now at the mercy of the mob their husbands worked for.  The mob is supposed to support them financially, but the money they get isn't enough to pay the bills and, in the case of Kathy, support her young kids.  Kathy also seems to be the only one of the three who misses her husband (Brian d'Arcy James) while he's locked up.  The other two are married to lowlifes (Ruby's husband constantly ridicules her, while Claire's was physically abusive), so they are less choked up by their husbands not being around.

Regardless, the three are united in a common goal when the local mob boss won't give them enough money to live on.  That's when they decide to get into the crime business themselves, and start muscling the old goons out of the protection business that they have going on around New York City.  We can see potential everywhere, if only the movie would slow down and truly show us how these three women who have had no experience in the organized crime world could rise to the top so quickly, and hire hardened street thugs to work for them.  But, like I said, the movie is not actually interested in exploring these details.  All of this information is brushed aside in brief montages, so we never really get to see these women adjusting to their new lifestyles.  It all just kind of falls in their lap in an unsatisfying and contrived sort of way.

The Kitchen is not aided by the performances, which are strangely lifeless.  Melissa McCarthy usually excels when she steps away from comedy, and tries a more dramatic role, as her turn last year in Can You Ever Forgive Me proved.  But here, she seems to struggle with finding the emotion of her character.  In a rare dramatic performance, Tiffany Haddish is obviously trying here, but sometimes seems uncomfortable when she's not cracking jokes like she usually does.  It's not a terrible effort, just forgettable.  Elizabeth Moss comes the closest to creating a real character, as we see her fully embrace becoming her own woman for the first time after a lifetime of abuse and violence.  But, at the same time, her character leads to some troubling moral questions.  Are we supposed to be cheering as this woman learns to be successful at chopping up and disposing of bodies, because the movie seems to be viewing it as some kind of empowerment stance.

This is simply a muddled crime drama that is nowhere near as good as it could have or should have been, especially when you look at everyone who got involved.  Perhaps this project just went wrong somewhere along the line, or maybe it got butchered in editing, as it does seem like there used to be more to this movie than what's on the screen at some point.  All I know is The Kitchen had a lot of potential, and it never gets around to using it.

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