The Kitchen is a new film from writer/director Andrea Berloff, co-writer of Straight Outta Compton and Blood Father, and is based on the DC Vertigo comic of the same name. It stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss as three women living in Hell’s Kitchen, New York during the 1970’s, whose crime boss husbands are sent to jail for three years, leaving them unable to provide for themselves or their families. With nowhere else to turn for help and no other course of action to take, the women decide to take things into their own hands, and end up taking over their husbands’ places in the gangster network they used to run. But Hell’s Kitchen in the 70’s is a tough place for women to succeed, especially amongst the mob, and if these three are going to succeed, they might have to cross lines they will never come back from. The film also stars Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Bill Camp, and Common.
I was nervous about The Kitchen from the get-go. For one thing, mob movies not made by Martin Scorsese don’t tend to fare very well in their productions, and even the ones that succeed in their own modest means, like 2015’s Black Mass, are really only showcases for their leading performers to show off that they can still do New York or Boston accents whenever it’s required. But the first trailer for this movie promised something new, something different from what we’d seen before in that the people running the mob this time around were all women who wouldn’t take shit from anybody, and eventually came into their own as real crime bosses. That’s a pretty intriguing premise for a gangster flick, so I got on board after a little while, wanting to give this movie a chance, believing it could be something like a sleeper hit or underrated gem like 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., however different the two films may be in execution. Then the second trailer came out, and that enthusiasm died down a little as I watched what was pretty much a regurgitation of the first trailer with a few new bits, and noticed that the studio wasn’t putting that trailer in front of any new film releases leading up to The Kitchen’s opening weekend. The real kicker, though, was when it was discovered by critics everywhere that not only would the press screenings for this film be held the night before the movie came out, that night would be Thursday night, which meant there would be no reviews from critics posted before then, and no preview screenings for general audiences at all, with the film simply being put into theaters on Friday without a major marketing push beforehand. (Here’s the lesson, kids: if a studio isn’t letting the review embargo on its movie lift until the day before the movie comes out, or the day the movie otherwise would be coming out, it’s a really bad sign). And as much as I wanted to believe that this was another Christopher Robin situation where the movie actually was pretty good after all…it just wasn’t. Boy, oh boy, it sure wasn’t.
The Kitchen is truly, truly bad, but not in the way most movies typically are. It has the talent, production and costume design, a solid writer, everything it needed to be good, and yet, this is easily one of the worst movies of the whole year so far, its only true competition being the also god-awful Dark Phoenix. Nothing about this movie works in its favor when it should, and the largest contributing factor to this is that the film feels like its been re-shot at least two or three times in the middle of production, with some scenes dragging on way too long without anything happening, and others cutting out in the middle of what was probably meant to be an interesting interaction. The editing in this movie is atrocious, and the most upsetting thing about it is that it makes a one hour, forty-two minute movie feel like it’s two and a half hours long simply because of how choppy and boring it all ends up being. It’s not like this movie has a message and the execution of that message just wasn’t as well done as it could have been; this movie has absolutely no idea what it wants to be about, other than women taking over the mob in the 1970’s, but it doesn’t even pursue that idea to its fullest potential, as our main stars face almost zero resistance from anyone they encounter. From the start of the film, it’s clear this movie just wants to look and sound like a mobster flick without ever actually becoming one, only hinting at the crime world with vague conversations that don’t actually go anywhere, supposedly building up to some semblance of tension that almost never gets paid off except in one sequence where McCarthy is waiting with a gun in her hands by her apartment door. It even tries to set up a big "gotcha!" twist with Common's character, and it never gets paid off or addressed at all after-the-fact, affecting absolutely zero percent of the plot moving forward.
Even the performances themselves are terrible, with almost none of the supporting characters (save for Bill Camp’s) looking or sounding like they would pose any sort of threat to these women, most of them only there to fill in the negative space the camera probably should have kept. Both McCarthy and Haddish have been excellent in a few other projects, and their talent is immense, but it’s so clear after the initial set-up is done that this movie has absolutely no idea what to do with them. It attempts at some form of badassery by trying to build them up to be these intimidating crime bosses who will stop at nothing to get what they want, but with no roadblocks to encounter in the first place, there’s no reason they would ever have to stop anyway, and the way it only gestures to black empowerment in the case of Haddish’s character could (and probably should) come across as borderline insulting. Even McCarthy, an actress who otherwise would be able to carry a movie like this with halfway decent writing, feels totally out of place, and her character constantly claims to have done things for the family she never would have been able to do otherwise…but we never actually see her do anything she wouldn’t have otherwise been unable to do. The only thing these characters really do is collect and re-distribute money between different people the families have done business with before, and offer their protection for those businesses when it’s not needed because trouble never comes knocking. There’s one series of deaths that pretend like they’re supposed to matter, but none (read: none) of the characters killed ever mattered in the first place.
The only real redeeming quality to the movie is the performance of Elisabeth Moss, whose character is written with barely enough of an arc that she actually has something to do and a change in her character to pursue, making her performance not just the best one in the whole movie, but the only one that actually matters that much at all, the only one that’s allowed to go anywhere beyond “husband replacement.” Moss feels right at home in this movie, but it’s only because she’s the only one with the tools in her writing equipped to feel at home.
The Kitchen is a disaster of a movie that feels like someone assembled three different mobster stories with all the same actors, characters, sets, and settings, and then a hurricane blew through town and they just had to splice together all three films until they had something they could sell to the studio. It’s not just one of the worst comic book movies I’ve ever seen, it might be one of the worst ever put to screen, and not even on the “so bad, it’s good” level of something like Batman & Robin – it’s just plain awful, and the only thing stopping it from being the most pointless comic book movie ever might just be that it has better production design than Steel. Wasting the talent of actresses like these on a project so bad I want to not sell tickets to it (I work at a movie theater) is egregious enough, but wasting it in one of my all-time favorite genres with a movie that actually could have been so much better in the right hands? That’s the real crime.
I’m giving “The Kitchen” a 3.3/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.