Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Reel Review: THE KITCHEN

In the last century, mob movies have taken on many shapes and sizes; from historical pieces, to dramas, to comedies, to parodies. In 2018, director Steve McQueen gave the genre a much-needed fresh look with his magnificent WIDOWS, which had the ladies of the mob stepping up and taking the lead. But to coin a sports-term, Hollywood can be a copycat league…and here in 2019 the same approach is taken with Andrea Berloff’s THE KITCHEN. 
Hell’s Kitchen, 1978. Three mobsters (James Badge Dale, Jeremy Bobb, James d’Arcy James), are sent to prison. Their wives; Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss), are left with no income and decide to take over the criminal empire. 
Based on the Vertigo comic book miniseries, THE KITCHEN follows the trio as they take on the Irish Mob for no other reason than to support themselves and their families. It’s a money game at first, as the mob leaders promise to support the ladies in their husband’s absence, but provide barely enough to make rent. With the stakes high, the film goes into a clunky and clumsy path for them to take power, which involves providing protection for the local businesses and securing union contracts for upcoming construction projects. Along the way they dodge the FBI, whack whoever gets in their way, and drop F-bombs to let others know how tough they are. The pieces for a solid story are there, but the script takes many shortcuts as things advance in leaps and bounds, and its difficult to believe the trio would advance so quickly. 
A major issue that arises early is with the characters. From the leads to the minor ones, everyone acts inconsistently and erratically; often saying one thing and doing another with their actions changing from scene-to-scene. It never make sense and its hard to keep track of who wants what. Another issue is that the characters act so smug and cocky its impossible to root for them, and not wanting to see main characters succeed is a genuine problem. There is also a lot of bluntness to the film as dialogue is simple to the point of cringe-worthy and sounds like something a 13-year-old boy would write on a bathroom wall. 
And a bathroom wall is exactly where THE KITCHEN looks like it was edited. Scenes transition abruptly and many feel like they start in the middle; making for a very choppy and awkward flow. Pop songs from the era are chosen to reflect what’s going on in a scene, but there’s zero subtlety to it and it’s too obvious and way too on-the-nose. The film also wants to drive home the point of anything-men-can-do-women-can-do-better, which is fine, but it’s handled with the precision of a meat mallet as characters have to blurt it out every two minutes, and it just gets in the way of the story. It’s amateur-level crap. 
Also crap is the acting. Melissa McCarthy is bland and makes an occasional attempt at a New York accent that sounds ridiculous. Tiffany Haddish is completely out of her element in a drama and can’t emote anything. Elisabeth Moss comes off mostly unscathed but feels restrained. Domhnall Gleeson shows up as a hitman but also feels underutilized.
After all the issues, THE KITCHEN has a chance to salvage itself towards the end, but wraps with one of the dumbest endings of all time…and despite a half-assed attempt at a major twist (it can be seen from a mile away), the credits come as a relief. At only 103 minutes THE KITCHEN should feel like a breeze, but it’s such a painful, dysfunctional, and dull watch that it feels much longer. This one needs to be whacked and buried. 

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