Ah, the dog days of August. It’s hot, humid, and the sun is high and hazy in the blue skies. What does the multiplex have to offer this weekend? Well, for fans of female comedians and crime junkies, there’s The Kitchen, a crime drama with the novelty of having three women in the lead roles instead of three men. Picture it: Hell’s Kitchen, 1978. Three housewives – Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss) are facing hard times after their husbands are arrested and sent to prison by the FBI for robbery and assault. Unemployment is at a record high, and the workforce isn’t interested in mothers or housewives. With homelessness knocking on their front doors, the women turn to the Irish mob their husbands are part of for finances and protection. However, the envelopes they get are damn near empty, and when their requests for more money are viciously rejected, they turn to the only option they have: taking over the family business.
They manage to gain some success easily by turning over businesses across Hell’s Kitchen to their side, promising protection and extra care – a woman’s touch, something the burly Irish mobsters can’t offer. However, as they become more and more powerful, the list of enemies keeps growing, including Ruby’s controlling mother-in-law Helen O’Carroll (character actress Margo Martindale), FBI agent Gary Silvers (Common), and Italian mafia kingpin Alfonso Corretti (Bill Camp). The biggest threat of all? Their own husbands, who aren’t too happy about the Feminist Revolution invading their private lives. Lines are drawn, backroom deals are made, and blood is shed as the three women fight to stay alive and safe in their newfound roles as the Mob Queens of New York City.
Adapted from a Vertigo comic book series by screenwriter Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), the film is a deliberate throwback to gangster films of the 1970s, dressed up with grimy cinematography and killer costumes. It’s as pulpy as a slim paperback novel from a run-down dime store, and that’s arguably for the best, given the source material. It’s late summer popcorn trash, cheesy Noo Yawk accents and all. The three women are generally solid, though Moss turns in the best performance as Claire, an abused and meek woman who learns how to unleash her dangerous side to protect herself. McCarthy and Haddish are solid, showing off a more hammy dramatic range than audiences are used to from them. The rest of the supporting cast are decent, even if Common’s character feels grafted onto to the film from an earlier, more tragic draft of the script.
Berloff, making her debut as a director, is more of a competent technician than an artist, sticking to the general rule-book of the crime genre. She’s a “meat and potatoes” kind of director, and unfortunately, it reveals some of the narrative flaws in the script, which only ever get smoothed out successfully by the cast’s performances. The twists and turn feel ridiculous and a little goofy, but given how quickly the film is paced, it’s hard to even notice. Overall, The Kitchen is an enjoyable way to pass the time, delivering a few dark-sided laughs and some thrills with an A-list cast.
The Kitchen is Now Playing Nationwide