Having Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elizabeth Moss play the wives of mobsters who take organized crime into their own hands sounds like it should be a blast, but the reviews for "The Kitchen" — Andrea Berloff's directorial debut, based on a DC comic, out August 9 — are looking rough. Is this a redeemable film that's getting a bad rap, or is really just a muddled mess? Here's what the reviews have to say:
Claire, Ruby And Kathy Fall Into The Hell's Kitchen Crime World After Their Crappy Husbands Get Locked Up
"The Kitchen" follows the wives of three Hell's Kitchen Irish crime family members. When their husbands are sent to prison by the FBI, three women are told they're going to be taken care of by the family, only to receive minimal funds that are insufficient to even pay the rent.
There's the bruised and shy Claire (Elisabeth Moss), the outspoken but shunned Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and the maternal but voiceless Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) […] The Irish mob that's left over barely helps the three women out, which drives them to go into the business for themselves.
McCarthy, Haddish And Moss All Bring Their A-Game To Their Characters…
McCarthy, who continues to prove her dramatic chops, makes a fine leader as Kathy, alternately conflicted by her success and the things she had to do to make it happen (in one underutilized narrative string, Kathy's father voices his displeasure for the terrible work his seemingly sweet daughter is getting into, a tension never fully explored). Despite a rocky start, Haddish's performance grows over time, and both she and Ruby end the film in decidedly different spaces. Still, it's Moss that really shines here, as she turns her section of the story into a full-bodied arc for Claire, an abused woman who finds salvation in odd places (and people).
Ruby at first seems like an underwritten role for Haddish's largely untested dramatic skills, but the more we grow to understand what makes Ruby tick, the more Haddish stands out as the cast's stealth MVP.
McCarthy, who showed how fantastically she could pivot to more serious roles in last year's "Can You Ever Forgive Me" — and landed a well-deserved Oscar nod — is the heartbeat of the movie, a sort of mama bear in Charlie's Angels hair.
… But These Roles Just Aren't Close To Any Of These Performer's Best Work
The most curious casting choice here is Haddish, whose Ruby O'Carroll is an enigmatic bundle of contradictions. Although the character is the most complex and thoughtful, Haddish seems constrained throughout the movie, tamping down her natural exuberance to furrow her brow and scowl menacingly at the men who inevitably want to encroach on her newfound turf. (Let Tiff be Tiff should be the governing mantra for any filmmaker working with this gifted performer.)
Of the three it's Moss, in a rare studio appearance, who comes out of it the least scathed, seeming more comfortable than her co-stars, albeit playing a woman beaten and raped by the men around her, depressingly not far from her most well-known small-screen role.
There's so much talent in "The Kitchen", and so much of it wasted; that's kind of all you can think about for most of writer-director Andrea Berloff's debut — a girls-can-do-crime-too story that can't quite decide if it wants to be a drama or a caper, and just ends up settling for some silly, sour place in between.
The Film Leans Into Violence… Without Really Going *All* The Way Or With A Sense Of Why It's Necessary
Berloff doesn't blink at the violence inherent to her story, and despite a few off-kilter chuckles here and there, "The Kitchen" is a hard-bitten, hard-boiled crime drama in which feeling affection for any character is a recipe for heartbreak. Dead bodies litter the sidewalk in front of the mob's hangout, one lead character is subjected to a shocking sexual assault, and that's before the gals and new pal Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson, appearing out of nowhere) start hacking up bodies and long before Bill Camp arrives as a fierce competitor.
Berloff doesn't make light of the urban warfare that ensues, but neither does she give it much weight. The shots that ring out are jarring and harsh, the dramatic impact nil. The deaths of central characters leave barely a ripple.
Unlike such forebears as "Goodfellas" or "American Hustle" — both of which it dimly recalls — "The Kitchen" lacks the gravitas and subversive charge that characterizes the best gangster pictures. The visceral excitement — like the viscera themselves — has been left off screen in a film that portrays the diseased thrill of violence, but never truly interrogates it.
Sticking To Its Guns (Literally), It Never Goes Deep On The Idea Of Women Getting Involved In Organized Crime
The premise of women fighting against a patriarchal system in a particularly difficult time period in a particularly tough locale feels ever-prescient and even within the confines of comic book territory, there feels like a much smarter and more intricately layered film that could have been made here. But Berloff never manages to get underneath the surface, despite a number of failed attempts to provide social commentary, and as the film limps toward a shambolic, confusing conclusion, any hope that it might improve is replaced with relief that it's finally about to end.
The brand of feminism that "The Kitchen" is working with is unfortunately shallow, positing trauma as necessary for growth and equating strength with being able to commit murder and not shying away from blood. Need to prove a woman has her wits about her? Have her shoot a gun.
'The Kitchen' Never Hits Its Stride Or Find Its Tone
People show up out of nowhere, have an encounter or fatal confrontation, then stop, as if in individual comic-book frames: It's as if every sequence ends with an unspoken " … and scene." Tonally, too, "The Kitchen" is all over the place: Although there are genuine moments of humor, they're at odds with the increasingly ghastly measures taken by the three protagonists, as they succumb to power-hunger, paranoia and overkill.
There's a double cross you won't see coming, and one that you probably will. There are woman-power rock chestnuts ("Barracuda," "Gold Dust Woman") on the soundtrack, and a dollop of rah-rah didacticism that makes "The Kitchen" feel, at times, like a gender-flipped remake of a movie that never was. Mostly, though, there's a story that's functional in a gloomy second-hand way.
Most damning, one character undergoes a major transformation, with a gobsmacking twist that has repercussions for not just every other character, but all the story beats leading up to it. Stuck inside a feature-length running time, such an arc feels truncated and out of place. And the zippy final reveal of what it all means (and how it all came together) does little to soften the landing.
What is clear is that "The Kitchen" struggles mightily to make character motivations understandable, even from scene to scene.
The Editing Gives Away What Probably Happened — It Feels Like Suits Got Involved And Hacked It Together
To add to the film's mounting list of problems, it's frantically edited, reminiscent of the clips of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that went viral for just how clunky they were. Generously, the editing — in addition to inexplicable character turns, introductions, and motivations — feels like the casualty of a longer piece cut down to hit a more palatable runtime.
It also feels as though the film has been substantially edited for length, even at 102 minutes, with establishing scenes that appear and disappear as quickly as a couple of wordless comic panels and an overreliance on montage to communicate the passage of time with the most basic and predictable era-appropriate musical choices.
It wreaks of studio interference, a film that feels pulled apart and then haphazardly restitched in an editing suite by a committee of people desperate to get it released before swiftly moving on and all agreeing to never speak of it ever again.
The Scorsese-style touch is all well and good, and letting women take over for idiotic and violent men is overdue. The concept of this movie works. The cast works. The story, either because it was hobbled from the start or because it was gutted to shreds in the editing room, flat-out fails. There's maybe a good movie, or a good limited TV series, to make from "The Kitchen". But this film, in its seemingly truncated 100-minute form, is nowhere near good.
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