At a conceptual level, The Kitchen seemed to be hitting all the right notes for us. On paper we had 1970s New York as a setting, a quality cast and a story surrounding the mob. We went in thinking we might get some sort of The Sopranos meets The Deuce. Did it deliver on that promise, or should we, dare we say, fuggetaboutit…?
In 1978 Hell’s Kitchen, a trio of mobsters go out to rob a store that happens to be under surveillance by a pair of FBI agents. After being arrested, the three men are sentenced to three years in prison. With them locked up, the acting boss promises to look after their wives: Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss). The money they are given isn’t enough, and their request for more is rebuffed, leaving them in a lurch.
Searching for a way to make ends meet, the women discover that local businesses are dissatisfied with the service they’re getting for their protection money. They see this as their way in, collecting the money directly and taking care of any problems the businesses have. This doesn’t sit well with Little Jackie, the acting boss, who decides they need to be stopped. While trying to rape Claire he’s killed by Gabriel (Domhnall Gleason), who becomes their muscle.
With Jackie gone and Gabriel in place, the women take charge of Hell’s Kitchen, eventually getting so big that they’re summoned to meet the head of the Italian mafia, who offers to back their claim when their husbands get out on parole. This sets up a showdown between the woman and their husbands, particularly Ruby and Kevin (James Badge Dale), who was in charge before he was put away. After working so hard for their power, they won’t give it up easily.
There are a number of quality performances here, starting with McCarthy, whose move away from silly comedies has gone surprisingly well to this point. With Mad Men and Handmaid’s Tale, Moss already had her dramatic pelts on the wall, but she gets her moments to shine as the abused prey turned predator. Gleason is good as the psycho muscle, and Dale brings some menace as Ruby’s estranged husband. Margo Martindale (of The Americans fame) is delightfully detestable as Dale’s mother and the true power behind the mob.
Even if it doesn’t fully deliver on its promise, The Kitchen has an interesting idea, and the setting is fairly well executed (at least outside of a couple terrible CGI shots). There’s also a good amount of action for those that like to see lots of “whacking” in their mob movies.
While the idea is interesting, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The way that the various shop owners just go along with the idea of three women undercutting the mob with basically no questions asked seemed lazy and absurd. It feels like they went from broke to successful overnight, and since no struggle or adversity is shown in reaching that point it doesn’t provide a reason to feel happy for them. They blew through that aspect of the story far too quickly in a rush to start piling up the dead bodies.
Most of the cast is good, but you’ll notice we never mentioned Tiffany Haddish, who, like McCarthy, is a comedian transitioning to a serious role. She doesn’t handle it as cleanly, and many of her scenes come across as forced. There’s also a sub-plot involving her that isn’t handled well at all. That’s obviously not a knock on her since she isn’t involved with the script, but her motivations just aren’t hashed out enough (and don’t get us started on the “twist”).
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s a single deleted scene that actually addresses a subject that should have been addressed in the film, albeit in brief fashion. Beyond that you get a couple of fairly short catch-all behind the scenes featurettes that cover a variety of topics.
The Kitchen has some cool ideas but never seems able to take the time to dig into them, blowing through what should’ve been the meat of the film and leaving us to wait for the next grisly death rather than invest in the characters.