THE KITCHEN (Andrea Berloff). 102 minutes. Opens Friday (August 9). See listing. Rating: NN
The Kitchen has all the right ingredients for a solid late-summer thriller: a great cast, a promising filmmaker and a rock-solid spin on the gangster picture. And yet, for all the effort that’s clearly gone into it, it just sits there. It doesn’t work at all. Somehow it’s just a waste of everybody’s time.
In her directorial debut, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) casts Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss star as Kathy, Ruby and Claire, three mob wives in 70s Manhattan – in Hell’s Kitchen, specifically – who step in to run the family business when their husbands are shipped off to prison.
Berloff, whose script for the Jamie Foxx thriller Sleepless showed a good feel for thug-life complications, seems totally at sea here. She reduces Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle’s Vertigo comic book to one mob-movie cliché after another, with payoffs and alliances and murders and betrayals stacking up so quickly that it’s impossible to see any of her leads as people rather than types, let alone make an emotional investment in them similarly, supporting players like Margo Martindale, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Jeremy Bobb, Bill Camp and Common just sort of sit around, waiting to do something. Domhnall Gleeson stands out as a dead-eyed hit man who takes a shine to Moss’s Claire, but it’s hard to tell whether his sociopathic blankness is supposed to be seen as comic relief. (My preview audience was split on it.)
Despite the whirlwind pace, the whole movie feels like it’s waiting to start, suggesting The Kitchen experienced some major tampering in post-production at least two key scenes appear to start in mid-sentence, as though someone hacked out two-thirds of them in a last-minute attempt to speed up the narrative the nonstop 70s soundtrack similarly hints that someone on the post-production side didn’t think the film couldn’t stand on its own.
I am also prepared to wager, based on the way certain scenes are shot and cut, that the film had to shoot around the availability of some of its stars, which also explains the general lack of chemistry and energy from scene to scene.
It’s sad to see performers as lively and present as McCarthy, Haddish and Moss denied the chance to do anything more than scowl at one another, but hey, at least I can remind you all that Steve McQueen’s Widows told a great version of this story just last year, making all the cultural and textural points that The Kitchen doesn’t even know exist. And now you have an excuse to catch up with it.