Two-thirds of a good movie. Maybe five-sixths.
After their husbands get nicked by the feds, three housewives find themselves with few prospects of gainful employment to support their families in late-1970s New York City. With ties to the Irish mob in Hell’s Kitchen, Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) decide that if they can’t get their due, they’ll step up to what their husbands used to do: collect and protect. Turns out they’re not only good at it but better, quickly making new enemies of old friends and new friends out of old enemies. With so much opportunity suddenly on the table, alliances will be tested… and not everyone comes out a winner.
With a dream cast of women heading up a story loosely based on a brutal DC non-superhero comic series, the concept seems ready-made for a theatrical feature. Guns, hits, racketeering, and all the trappings, the movie’s trailers lay out an arc of desperation, opportunity, and betrayal, all the mobster movie tropes rolled into a decidedly different package than these types of stories usually get. Knowing nothing about the source material other than of its existence and on the heels of another Shaft movie, does The Kitchen stand out, or is it in desperate need of refurbishing?
The film covers a lot of territory very quickly, almost as fast of the promotional trailer. Yet at one particular point — after a significant key event — everything afterward feels like a different and much worse film. While the story may be faithful to the comics series, the film version is content to slaps viewers in the face and offer nothing in return, making you wonder if there was a different cut that went entirely another way just into the third act. It’s as if some middleman ran out screaming, “We can’t end it like this; what about a sequel or franchise?” Coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, the conclusion feels like an incredible opportunity wasted as it abruptly and underwhelmingly ends.
The soundtrack is classic — although Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” pops up at least three separate times — and it’s easy to tell effort was put into recreating NYC in the period. Domhnall Gleeson’s Gabriel O’Malley is an easy favorite with his mentor-ship of Moss’s Claire, too-small parts were given to Susan Blommaert (“The Blacklist”) and Common, and Bill Camp’s Alfonso Coretti steals every scene he’s in with sinister-yet-professional charm. With excellent work provided by the three leads (and a special nod to Moss in the meatiest part), more than half of the last act feels yanked out from under the production… with little logic or reason as to what they were building to or why.
In the shadow of last year’s similarly-themed Widows — which had a shaky denouement but still a good ending — there was already a precedence set for a lady-led doing-it-for-themselves story line. With a decidedly more final ending, most of this might have worked out, but since none of the main characters are “good” people, maybe the writers or editors didn’t think anyone deserved better. Remember The Matrix, when Joe Pantoliano’s Cypher pulled the plug on Belinda McClory’s character Switch, that moment before when she looked up and said “Not like this”? Now imagine that movie ended five minutes later — nothing more impactful happening — and you’ll have an inkling of the letdown. For all the goodwill established, this setup deserved more.
The Kitchen is rated R for violence, language throughout, some sexual content, and the perfect place to drop a dead body.
Two skull recommendation out of four