This kitchen lacks heat.
When a movie is fantastic, it makes the review extraordinarily easy to write. There are dozens of aspects of the movie to gush over, rave about and generally praise. You can write a thousand words on a great movie. Even horrible movies make for easy reviews. Honestly, I love seeing bad movies. Horrible movies give you just as much material as great ones, and they’re often a ton of fun to write about. Mediocre movies however, are really annoying. I can’t stand writing reviews for mediocre movies. They’re often so forgettable and uninteresting that the only notes I have for them are, “this is a movie that happened. It was fine, but it honestly didn’t leave much of a lasting impression on me. I’m not going to remember this movie in a week.” The Kitchen (2019) is a mediocre movie.
Based on the DC Vertigo comic book miniseries of the same name, The Kitchen follows Kathy, Ruby and Claire, the wives of three Irish mobsters. After their husbands are sent to jail, the women rise to power when they take over organized crime in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York City in the late 1970s.
When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was hoping that it would be something like the phenomenal and criminally-underrated Widows (2018). I was hoping for stunning visuals, breathtaking performances and jaw-dropping twists and turns. The Kitchen is similar to Widows in that it has its protagonists take over the criminal work of their husbands, but unfortunately the comparisons stop there. Granted, The Kitchen manages to squeeze in its own fair share of surprises, but it always does so without any impact. Which is the problem with this movie as a whole. From plot, to dialogue to character development, nothing in The Kitchen really blows you away. I absolutely love the idea of these three women slipping further into a life of crime and was excited to see these wonderful actresses have the time of their lives playing such unscrupulous characters. And yet, the movie never manages to do anything exciting with its interesting premise and instead, spins its wheels for an hour and a half as a typical ho-hum mobster movie. Widows, this was not. By the way, you can check out my review for Widows here.
Wouldn’t you think that a crime drama starring two-time Oscar-nominee Melissa McCarthy, two-time Emmy-winner Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany freaking Haddish would be brimming with charisma and fire? So would I. And yet, The Kitchen proves to be a colossal waste of the incredible talent of its three stars largely because it’s unsure what genre it’s trying to be. About halfway through you get the idea that this movie started out as a comedy and then director Andrea Berfloff just went, “nah, changed my mind. Let’s do a gritty drama instead.” Look, gritty dramas are well and good and Lord knows that these three actresses have the acting chops to pull one off. But, if you have the comedic powers of Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish at your disposal, how do you not make this movie a black comedy? It pained me to watch these hilarious actresses have to essentially pull their punches and be neutered by this bleak and frankly, rather dull, script. As a by-the-books mob movie grounded in realism, The Kitchen comes off as uninspired and generic. However, if it had played on those fleeting moments of twisted dark humour that appeared from time to time, this could have been a memorable and wildly entertaining movie. You can just tell that there are moments where each star wants to really go for it, but are held back by this stale story. Three normally personable leads are reduced to characters repeating empty lines.
McCarthy and Moss are perfectly fine in their roles as Kathy and Claire respectively. Each has proven their skill for drama in the past and unsurprising, turn out adequate performances. That’s one of the annoying things about The Kitchen. There truly isn’t a single bad actor in the movie, but because none of the characters are fleshed out or developed, you have a hard time staying focused on them. For example, the women go from poor helpless wives in one scene to literally being queens of a criminal empire in the next. While I LOVE that glow up of power, it all happened without any explanation or struggle. They just decided to become rich and it happened. When a story just happens to characters, it makes it harder for an audience to relate to or root for them. That’s why movies need well established and dynamic characters to make the story interesting.
In her first leading role in a drama, Tiffany Haddish is easily the best part of this movie. Haddish has made a name for herself in comedy thanks to her scene-stealing role in Girls Trip (2017), but with this transformative performance expect to see Haddish in more dramatic projects in the future. As the thick-skinned, no-nonsense Ruby, Haddish is utterly captivating. Of all the characters her storyline is by far the most compelling and it’s only bolstered by the dedication and presence Haddish brings to the role. She’s arguably the only one who keeps you invested in the meager story and more than once, I found myself wishing that the movie had starred her in a solo role. As tepid as The Kitchen may be, mark my words: this will open all sorts of doors for Haddish.
As much as I had my problems with The Kitchen, it is by no means a horrible movie. Sure, it has flaws with its pacing and its characters, but it’s not nearly as bad as people are claiming it to be. Let’s all direct that negativity to a genuinely terrible movie like Men in Black: International (2019), okay? By the way, you can check out my review for that movie here.
Flimsy as its story may be, solid acting from veterans like McCarthy and Moss as well as Haddish’s scene-stealing performance will ensure that this movie finds its own small yet devoted group of fans. Also, let me just say this: The soundtrack in this movie was FIRE. BOP. AFTER. BOP. I’m a little biased because I love the 70s but hey, sometimes a great soundtrack can distract you from the meh movie you’re sitting through. Oh my God, I just had an amazing revelation: If this has been a TV mini-series on Netflix or HBO, it would have SLAYED. A handful of episodes to properly develop characters, an entire season to set up satisfying twists, longer monologues from Haddish…I’m full of great ideas. Hollywood should put me in charge of something.
What did you think of The Kitchen? Are you one of its fans?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!