Brian Truitt

USA TODAY

Published 4:00 PM EDT Aug 7, 2019

When a rat scurries across the screen and it’s not even the most on-the-nose aspect of “The Kitchen,” you know this is a gangster flick with issues.

Writer/director Andrea Berloff’s feature-film debut goes its own way by centering a 1970s mob drama on three intelligent women instead of a bunch of wise guys – been there, seen that, slept with the fishes. Yet despite some pleasant swerves and a murderer’s row of actresses with Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss, “The Kitchen” (★★ out of four; rated R; in theaters Friday) blunders a real chance to cook up something fresh and is undone by derivative dialogue and a muddled plot that trips on the line between black comedy and brutal crime drama.

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Based on the Vertigo Comics series, the film centers on a trio of Irish mob wives in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan circa 1978. Kathy (McCarthy) lives a pleasant-enough life as a housewife and mom to two kids while husband Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James) takes care of business. Claire (Moss) doesn’t have it so well, getting regularly battered by her ruffian spouse Rob (Jeremy Robb). And Ruby (Haddish) is almost constantly dismissed by her hubby Kevin (James Badge Dale), the leader of the gang, and nasty mother-in-law Helen (Margo Martindale).

When their men get pinched during a liquor-store stick-up gone wrong and are sentenced to three years in jail, Kathy, Claire and Ruby discover that the “family” isn’t that interested in making sure they live a charmed life. Needing money, and figuring out that the misogynistic men in charge aren’t that great at being mobsters, the women get into the protection racket for themselves.

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Their success upsets the balance of the gang’s power structure and plants a few seeds of mistrust among the threesome. It also puts them on the radar of rival Italian gangsters in Brooklyn, a hitman (Domhnall Gleeson) back in town and the FBI agents (Common and E.J. Bonilla) who put their husbands away.

The film’s most vicious gang war, though, is between its competing tones. As the women take over, there’s a strong sense of gallows humor and even a scene with disco dancing that points to a lighter nature, plus montages chock full of ‘70s pop hits – so much so that Stevie Nicks seems like a side character. At the same time, “The Kitchen” embraces the violent sides of the genre and boasts a savage streak that’d make “Goodfellas” proud, though these polarized qualities keep the film from coming together.

Haddish is crazy talented and will one day have a major dramatic breakthrough but this isn’t it, though her icy face-offs with Martindale are enjoyable.  And “The Kitchen” is a bit of a letdown for McCarthy her fantastic Oscar-winning turn in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”. Much of the emotion falls on Kathy’s shoulders, which McCarthy deftly handles, but she’s not as convincing with the shakedown antics.

Moss is the only one able to fully immerse herself into her character, as Claire successfully turns from being a mousey, abused wife to a crazy-eyed avenger disturbingly interested in the intricacies of corpse disposal. (Her oh-so-subtle grin when Rob’s taken off to the slammer is one of the film’s more satisfying moments.)

They’re made women in an underworld that doesn’t want them, and while that theme is sufficiently explored, “The Kitchen” disappointingly fails to explore the racial politics it hints at and, aside from the main trio, is full of characters who feel paper thin. The results aren’t criminal, per se, but the movie more often finds mediocrity instead of real nuance.



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Author : USA TODAY

Publish date : 2019-08-07 20:00:12