What do “The Farewell,” “Booksmart,” “Wild Rose” and “Little Woods” have in common? According to the popular Rotten Tomatoes website, they’re in the Top Ten highest rated movies of the summer, and you probably haven’t seen any of them. That’s because only “Booksmart” played locally for more than a week.
So if a high score on the “Tomatometer” can’t make a movie, can a low score break a movie? I’m not sure “The Kitchen” deserves its current rating of 20% “fresh” which I’m guessing translates to 80% “rotten.”
On paper and in its trailer, “The Kitchen” (R for violence and language), looked like a slam dunk. Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Hadish and Elisabeth Moss are at the top of the acting food chain. The concept of disgruntled mafia wives taking business into their own hands in 1978 Hell’s Kitchen, promises female empowerment, gritty locales, and fabulous clothes. There are a few strong scenes along the way that honestly speak to the inequality and ugliness of the time and place, but it’s not enough to save the film from a scattered script and jarring shifts in tone.
Kathy Brennan (McCarthy), Ruby O’Carroll (Haddish) and Claire Walsh (Moss) are Mafia wives whose husbands are tossed in jail after a botched robbery. The Mob is supposed to take care of them financially but, color me shocked, doesn’t. Kathy makes a minimal effort to find a job before deciding that there’s no hope for legitimate work in big, bad New York City. Very soon (too soon), the women figure out that their husbands’ bosses aren’t doing a very good job protecting the businesses who are paying for protection. Kathy cares about her community and feels that she and her friends can do a better job taking care of these folks. So they clean up graffiti and shoot at pimps. Lots of potential for social commentary and humor in that movie, but “The Kitchen” is only that movie for about 12 minutes.
Things get dark and violent very quickly. One minute Claire, who had been abused by her husband, is volunteering at church, the next she’s helping dismember a body in a bathtub and schooled by her new hitman boyfriend (Domhnall Gleeson), shooting people with impressive accuracy. Kathy doesn’t seem to have much trouble at all going from cookie-baking mom, to a threatening criminal orchestrating burglaries and murders. Ruby also seems to have no problem callously dispatching people who get in her way.
When their husbands are released early from prison, only Kathy is happy (sort of) and the men are decidedly not. This is the conflict I was waiting for but it’s dealt with rather quickly. Then we get back to the women, and watch the plot take one crazy turn after another.
McCarthy, Haddish and Moss have their moments but sometimes it feels like each of them are starring in their own movie. I never really bought their friendship so when the betrayal kicks in I didn’t really care. First-time feature director Andrea Berloff should have watched a few episodes of CBS’s “Good Girls,” which tells the female friends turn to crime story, much better. Her screenplay which is based on a DC comic series of the same name, is all over
Berloff gets wildly uneven work from her actors. McCarthy is good, but she’s always good, even when the movie isn’t. Moss tries has but can’t sell Claire’s transition from abused wife to heartless killer. Haddish proves she can handle drama, especially in her confrontations with her nasty mother-in-law (Margo Martindale in a pretty thankless role), but never seems comfortable here. The men, fare much worse; with only Gleeson and Bill Camp, coming across as anything more than pathetic stereotypes. But Berloff’s bigger problem is that she doesn’t keep us invested in the characters. There’s a problem when you care more about the sociopathic hitman than you do about the female leads.
If I didn’t expect so much from “The Kitchen,” I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. There’s a great story there somewhere, but it didn’t make it to the screen. Sorry, but in this case, the tomatoes may be right.
The Kitchen: 2 Stars
Amanda Glam is a former B-movie queen who appeared in such movies as “Space Shark” and “Horror at Hoosier High” and the British mini-series “What’s All This Then?” She has retired to Englewood and is thrilled to share her Hollywood know-how and movie insight with Review readers.