Violence Pays for Melissa McCarthy in Mob Flick ‘The Kitchen’
Playboy’s Stephen Rebello reviews the crime film that also stars Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss
In The Kitchen, three Irish mob wives from N.Y.’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood get sent upriver for a liquor-store hit gone south. Those three—wonderfully played by Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish—learn to survive by being as bloodthirsty and brutal toward skeevy, conniving men as men have been toward them. Sharply and stylishly directed and adapted by Andrea Berloff (screenwriter of Straight Outta Compton) from Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle’s comic book series, The Kitchen—set in the late 1970s—may remind some of Widows, director Steve McQueen’s estimable but overstuffed 2018 crime movie that undercut itself with self-importance.
The Kitchen gets the gender-twist stuff just right. Although French cinematographer Maryse Alberti perfectly paints the era and backdrop as grimy and gritty in the style of Midnight Cowboy and The French Connection, The Kitchen is shrewd, funny, nasty and corpse-strewn. It’s also got a driving classic rock and disco soundtrack used so well that we don’t even want to spoil it by revealing which songs are included.
McCarthy’s character, Kathy Brennan, is a wife and mother who refuses to stay poor and stay dependent on faithless men. She forms a partnership with Claire (Moss, fantastic playing a troubled, battered soul) and Ruby (Haddish, a marginalized, underestimated powerhouse). Soon, they’re striking deals, using intimidation and bringing the thunder on some formidably tough, power-mad customers; these include Margo Martindale as Mrs. O’Carroll, an especially monstrous mob player who rules Hell’s Kitchen, and a disarmingly genteel Italian mobster (Bill Camp) who may or may not be a kidnapper.
Both Camp and Martindale are stellar, and McCarthy, equal parts mama and monster, matches them dirty for dirty. The movie’s female-empowered revenge scenes, with snappy dialogue to match, deliver the goods, too.
It’s the women who run the rackets, annihilate their competitors and get the best moments in The Kitchen.
Where the flashy, highly enjoyable movie slightly lets us down, though, is in its refusal to dig much below the surface of its characters and themes. Since the characters empower themselves but not without cost—especially in the case of one of the three women—we need to see and feel the extent of that cost right down the line.
It’s the women who run the rackets, annihilate their competitors and get the best moments in The Kitchen, but the movie also features strong work from Domhnall Gleeson (superb in his scenes opposite Moss), James Badge Dale and Brian D’Arcy James. It’s a surprisingly tough, bleak, sometimes-blistering movie, but hey, you know the old saying: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of The Kitchen.
The cast is on fire in a tough, witty film that lets the women get the payback they deserve
The movie stays too surface-level in examining the toll of this criminal path