Half-baked leftovers in ‘The Kitchen’
Set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, circa 1978, The Kitchen marks the feature directorial debut for screenwriter Andrea Berloff, who previously penned World Trade Center (2006) for Oliver Stone and earned an Oscar nomination for Straight Outta Compton, and is based on the DC Vertigo comic book by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle.
Appropriately gritty but inappropriately shallow, The Kitchen stars Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, and Tiffany Haddish (in a rare dramatic turn) as three women whose gangster husbands are imprisoned for a botched robbery, which compels them to forsake baking cookies for collecting protection money from local merchants to make ends meet.
Not for a second is the film believable. The women take to crime so easily and effortlessly that it’s almost laughable. Maybe it’s a reflection of the ‘70s setting that no one here seems to have ever seen a gangster film, but they sure seem to know and follow the basic trappings.
The blame cannot be pinned on the leading ladies, who deliver their dialogue – clichés and all – with as much firmness as they can muster, and bring a necessary charisma to the proceedings. But they’re only as good as the script, which doesn’t do them – or the other actors – any favors. McCarthy, Moss, and Haddish struggle to find some dimension in their roles, but it’s an uphill battle all the way.
As the narrative (literally) lurches forward, The Kitchen only gets thinner and more obvious. There’s plenty of talent on hand, including Domhnall Gleeson, Margo Martindale, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Annabella Sciorra, Common, and Bill Camp (as a prototypical, and very laid-back, Italian godfather), but there’s not much for any of them to do.
What’s more, The Kitchen is a missed opportunity. Even within the context of an action-movie framework, the concurrent themes of female empowerment and gender equality, which are as timely now as during the “Women’s Lib” movement of the 1970s, are mere gimmicks, scarcely worthy of further debate or discussion. The film carries no weight, lacks any moral irony, makes no impact, and bears evidence of having been heavily edited. There are some glaring lapses in logic, including an absurd ending that portends something bigger (or perhaps a sequel), yet makes almost no sense given the events leading up to it.
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