Women get the chance to run the mob in “The Kitchen,” a star-studded adaptation of a comic book series from Andrea Berloff, the writer of “Straight Outta Compton.”
And while the cast works really hard, “The Kitchen” never quite clicks because Berloff’s script is a mess – poorly paced and all over the map – and leaves all the heavy lifting to its three talented leads, Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss.
To their credit, they nearly pull it off until the script takes some turns that completely send the film crashing off the rails.
McCarthy, Haddish and Moss play Kathy, Ruby and Claire, the wives of low-level Irish mobsters living in Hell’s Kitchen in the late 1970s. Kathy and her husband are happy raising their two children, while Ruby deals with the struggles of an interracial marriage and Claire is trapped in an abusive relationship.
When their husbands are arrested during an attempted robbery, it leaves the three women at the mercy of their husbands’ mob bosses to make ends meet. The arrangement seems to be OK at first, but when the money starts to dry up, the women decide to take matters into their own hands – taking over some of the neighborhood operations.
But just as it looks like things have taken a turn for the better, the women find themselves targets of everyone from rival mobsters to the FBI.
Even though Berloff adapted the screenplay and served as a first-time director, “The Kitchen” feels like a clash between writer and director. The film’s look captures the era well, a stylized adrenaline rush of bloodshed that is ratcheted up the deeper the women get into the world of organized crime – although there is probably one or two too many moments where Berloff relies on musical montages to advance the story.
That’s likely to try to hide the fact that the screenplay isn’t very good. Instead, it feels like a script that has taken a gangster movie playbook and made sure to check off every box – even if it has to force it into the storyline.
Every time the story feels like it is about to settle in, it quickly moves to something else. It makes it hard to get to know these people, or even care about their plight.
The only reason to care at all is because McCarthy, Haddish and Moss play their roles quite well. McCarthy continues her string of strong dramatic roles, while Haddish shows some range we haven’t seen before. But it’s Moss who truly steals the show as a human time bomb ready to explode. Her scenes with Domhnall Gleeson, as a hit man who helps the women rise to power, are among the best moments of “The Kitchen.”
The rest of the cast is hit and miss. Margo Martindale’s matriarch of the crime family deserved more time to develop, while Common’s FBI agent doesn’t really bring much to the proceedings.
For the most part, the three leads make this somewhat passable, given the limited resources they have to work with. This cast, and the audience, deserved better.