First, a little background: The Kitchen is based on the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, started in 1993 to publish stories that are more graphic or adult than could fit within the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority formed in 1954. The label will be discontinued in 2020, with all content merging under the DC Comics brand, with age-specific ratings similar to the movie industry. I didn't know this-I looked it up for you.
This may be important to understand prior to viewing the film. It somewhat explains the storyboard feel of the film, especially at the beginning and during the Quentin Tarantino-like final credits. Titling is overused. I think we can figure out when the film is taking place. Give the audience some credit. This is no documentary, and the writers apparently couldn't come up with a segue to illustrate the passage of time.
Characters are rapidly introduced in a series of scenes that lack continuity. Kind of like, hurry up, establish that the three main characters played by Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish (Kathy, Claire and Ruby respectively) are all married to abusive Irish gangsters. Yes, they are all properly motivated for what is to come.
Set in Hell’s Kitchen in New York during 1978, the Irish gangs are doing a poor job of acting like their more sophisticated Italian counterparts over in Brooklyn. When the husbands of our three leading ladies are sent to prison for three years, the unskilled and unemployable girls take matters into their own hands and (with a bit of male muscle for backup) take over the business. It turns out, they do have skills.
Margo Martindale, who played a similar role in TV’s Justified as Mags Bennett, tries to push the girls around until she realizes she’s outgunned while three of her boys are in the slammer. She is Helen O’Connor, mother of gang member Kevin. Little Jackie Quinn, played by Myk Watford is the gang’s acting kingpin when she’s not humiliating him in front of the other boys. Hers is a corny character, the mother-in-law to Ruby. And you can imagine that Ruby, being black, was never considered part of her “family.”
By now, fans of The Handmaid’s Tale recognize Elisabeth Moss’s ability to make the journey from meek to sinister. Her abuse at the hands of her husband and others sets her up for a joyful ride into the world of murder and dismemberment, training for which is provided by her new “messed up veteran” and ex-con boyfriend, fresh out of hiding in Colorado and come to save her. He has skills and looks kind of like Keith Urban.
There are a couple of Fleetwood Mac songs in the soundtrack along with Heart’s “Barracuda” – typical radio fare of the time. But the movie opens to Etta James’ “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” a 1966 song she recorded in 2006. This point is relentlessly hammered home as justification for the ladies to, well, become just like their thug husbands. Along with a sudden influx of cash comes sleepless nights, betrayals and more broken relationships. There is no redemption on the menu. Eventually the new kids in town turn on each other and are no better off than they were in the beginning, but at least they’re in charge of their own destinies.
Bill Camp plays Alfonso Coretti, another corny character. He’s the tough but kindly Brooklyn Mafia boss who runs his operation out of the back of a piano showroom. I guess that’s the source of their piano wire when needed.
Eventually, the story comes together with a couple of twists and surprises. The plot gels when the Director allows relationships to develop. Melissa McCarthy is decidedly un-funny, much as she was in Can You Ever Forgive Me? She’s a budding dramatic actor, but I hope she keeps doing comedy, since she’s a favorite in that genre.
Tiffany Haddish, similarly, is tough, dramatic and not at all like most of her recent roles. Again, she’s hilarious when cast in a comedy, so hopefully she doesn’t go all Michael Keaton on us.
The film is moderately violent and appropriate in length, but I’d wait to see this when it comes to TV unless you have an unlimited movie pass and want to get out of the house.
The Kitchen (2019) runs 1 hour 42 minutes and is rated R
Should I see this movie?