The Kitchen is a decently enjoyable mob movie, with stellar lead performances, but a lackluster script from first-time director Andrea Berloff.
With the rise in popularity of comic book movie adaptations, Hollywood studios have snatched up the rights to titles that range from superhero epics to more grounded dramas. Falling into the latter camp is The Kitchen, a film adaptation of the same-named Vertigo comic book series created by writer Ollie Masters and artist Ming Doyle. The movie benefits from a great deal of star power in its three leads: Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish - all of whom have proven their acting abilities many times over already. The Kitchen is a decently enjoyable mob movie, with stellar lead performances, but a lackluster script from first-time director Andrea Berloff.
The Kitchen follows three wives of Irish mob members - Kathy (McCarthy), Claire (Moss) and Ruby (Haddish) - in 1970s Hell's Kitchen, New York, who must fend for themselves when their husbands are arrested by the FBI. Though the remaining mafia boss assures they'll be taken care of, the three women quickly discover that if they're going to provide for themselves, they'll have to get much more involved with their husbands' business. In a short amount of time, Kathy, Ruby and Claire build a small empire for themselves as the new bosses of Hell's Kitchen. They run into some trouble with the old ways of the Irish mob, but the wives have an ally in hitman Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), who helps them with the dirtier side of the job. But when it comes time for their husbands to be released from prison, it remains to be seen if Kathy, Claire and Ruby will be able to hold onto what they've built.
Berloff, who's scripted Straight Outta Compton, Sleepless and Blood Father in recent years, makes her directorial debut on The Kitchen, for which she also wrote the script. Though Berloff's direction helps to showcase both the intimate drama and tense action of The Kitchen, the script leaves something to be desired. Whether due to the adaptation process or other factors, the movie speeds through its plot points as if checking them off a list, leaving little time for viewers to learn much about Kathy, Claire and Ruby beyond their surface-level motivations, let alone become too invested in their lives. The Kitchen seems to be intended as a character drama set in the world of the New York City mafia, but it winds up feeling much too light on the actual characters.
Thankfully, the skillful performances of McCarthy, Haddish and Moss fill in some of the blanks, giving Kathy, Ruby and Claire more depth. But, again, they're not helped by the script, which has McCarthy's Kathy taking certain character turns that aren't well enough established within the story. McCarthy works to fill in the gaps in Kathy's emotional journey, but the arc still feels like it's missing something. Haddish and Moss are similarly underserved by the script, with the former forced to play out a character arc that can't make sense to the audience until it's explained by a third-act twist, while the latter isn't given enough time in the movie to truly dive into Claire's transformation from a domestic abuse survivor into a mafia boss. So while McCarthy, Haddish and Moss do what they can with what they're given and do elevate The Kitchen, they're inevitably held back by the script.
Ultimately, The Kitchen had a great deal of potential as an examination of mafia and gender politics in 1970s New York City, with an incredibly talented cast, but fails to live up to that potential. What it may lack in character study, though, The Kitchen makes up for with an entertaining story told at a breakneck speed - and enough fantastic needle drops of classic 70s songs to keep music fans engaged. The Kitchen is certainly a much different mafia story than we're used to seeing Hollywood, but it perhaps leans a little too far into that fact. The women of The Kitchen have no qualms about telling anyone who will listen how much they hate the way the men run things (or just how much they hate men, both in general and specifically), which can either come across as refreshingly honest or overwhelmingly pandering depending on the scene - and the viewer.
As such, The Kitchen is a fine watch for anyone who was already anticipating the movie, though they may want to temper their expectations. It certainly stands out as a much more grounded comic book adaptation, but even in The Kitchen's strongest moments, it's tough to ignore all the squandered potential of its premise and cast. Because of this, and a lack of spectacle - aside from the admittedly stunning 70s costumes - those interested in checking out The Kitchen don't necessarily need to see it in theaters, and could wait for its home release. McCarthy, Haddish and Moss are a compelling team-up on screen, but The Kitchen is by no means the most satisfying comic book movie of the year.
The Kitchen is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 102 minutes long and is rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content.
- The Kitchen (2019) release date: Aug 09, 2019