The crime/mob film genre has been one littered with some amazing classics (Goodfellas) and some horrendous stinkers (last year’s Gotti). It’s a genre that allows for numerous interpretations on what crime can mean to a community and how good can come from something that we construe as morally bankrupt. The Kitchen tries to grapple with some of these ideas. The premise is pretty simple. In 1978 three criminals in Hell’s Kitchen get a three-year sentence in prison. This leaves their wives (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss) backed into a corner where they need to fight to survive and in the process build their own criminal empire. All of this is ripe for telling a compelling story but ends up tripping over its own feet. It’s a shame as between the premise, cast, writer/director, and a solid trailer this film looked pretty damn interesting.
So let’s begin to unpack this film. I will begin with what I see as the first major problem that hinders this film, pacing. The first act moves along at breakneck speed to set up the core of the film. This is turn ends up shortchanging some of the subplots while not really giving us enough background information.
In fact, we have a character introduction almost out of nowhere to become a fairly important piece of the cast. The editing jumps from scene to scene so haphazardly it often doesn’t allow us to get a grip on what we just saw before moving along to the next point. It also makes for our protagonists’ ascension to feel unearned in the start. What makes people in this neighborhood think that these three can and will protect them and their businesses? This is a good question and the answer is swept under the rug hoping the audience doesn’t think about it.
At the core of this film are the three leads and they are doing the best they can with what was on the page. McCarthy has dipped her toes into dramatic acting in more recent years and has proven to be successful at it. Here she is front and center as the sensible member of the trio wanting only to provide for herself and her kids, but as a side effect creating becoming a de facto mob boss. You can feel the great strength behind the personality she exudes. Out of the leads, she is the one who gets the most to do and probably turns in the best performance.
Haddish is the hot-headed outsider of the group. Her personality makes for a great foil for McCarthy’s character, but often on her own has nothing to do. But if anyone gets horribly shortchanged it would be Moss. Her character has the most character growth from start to finish, but it never feels organic or earned. Aside from Domhnall Gleeson and Margo Martindale none of the other actors have much to do or leave any sort of impression.
Credit where credit is due I think the film looks pretty impressive. If there is one thing movies like this always get right its costume and production design. And thankfully had enough of a budget to recreate the look of late 70’s New York.
I hate to say it but, writer/director Andrea Berloff’s directorial debut is a miss. And yet the more I think about it I wonder how much of it is really her fault? As I mentioned above the first act’s editing is a mess. If I was a betting man I’d assume Berloff’s original cut close to an hour longer than what hit theatres and she was forced by the studio to trim it down. I am hoping once this film gets a DVD/VOD release we’ll see a cut with a better-rounded story more nuanced plot points. Until then I weep for the fact that another mid budgeted film flopped at the box office adding another nail to that coffin.
Overall Score 2/5
The Shameless Plugs
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