The new movie “The Kitchen” at least gives the ticketholder an atmospheric effect. The film’s shape has been heavily influenced by the comic book series on which it is based. After a viewing, one feels very much as if one has been forced through a story in panels.
Directed by newbie Andrea Berloff, “The Kitchen” is the latest in the Tough Chicks genre. The idea of a crime movie with strong female leads, set in 1978 New York City, must have seemed attractive after last November’s “Widows,” set in Chicago, did some of the same business.
Here the stars are Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy and cable fave Elisabeth Moss. Brendan Gleeson’s son Domhnall plays an unself-conscious killer working for an Irish mob in the other Manhattan. Margo Martindale plays the wife of the old local crime boss and the mother of the current one, “Little Jacky.”
The younger women are married to three neighborhood criminals who are arrested trying to rob a convenience store. They have a tussle with two FBI agents before legal reinforcements arrive. The husbands are sent to prison for three years.
Little Jacky sends money to each of the wives, but not very much. Kathy (McCarthy), Ruby (Haddish), and Claire (Moss) complain about their allowances, but apparently some of the rackets aren’t making much money.
So the three of them go visiting area businesses. They offer to provide protection in return for weekly payments. Two of the mob thugs go along with them.
Soon the women are taking so much business away from Little Jacky that he threatens them. The next morning he goes to assault Claire but is shot dead by Gabriel (Gleeson), an experienced and effective killer who has been out of town waiting for the cops to lose interest in him.
He has also been waiting for Claire’s physically abusive husband to somehow remove himself from the woman’s life. Gabriel is sweet on Claire, and soon they are lovers.
And he is her tutor in killing and disposing of bodies. With Little Jacky gone and Gabriel to back them, the women take over the area’s prostitution, rakes from union work dues, and the other sources of mob money.
They even cross out of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood to demand payments from Hasidic Jews working in small jewelry stores. But these guys are supposedly protected by an Italian mob organization in Brooklyn.
The women have a consultation with their rival mob boss and come to an agreement. Then they find out their husbands will soon emerge from prison.
Well, they aren’t going to resign themselves to the roles they had before their men were arrested. And the bodies continue to fall. Mother-in-law? Pushed down stairs.
Abusive husband? Shot through his “wife-beater” undershirt. Displaced boss husband? Offed by contract killer. And so on.
The least evil of these secondary characters is Kathy’s husband, who was apparently ready to quit the underworld when he was arrested. But when he proves to be perfidious, guess what happens?
Bang bang Maxwell’s silver hammer.
The women won’t get away clean, though. And there seems to be some tension developing between Ruby and Kathy. And those FBI agents? They are back around, snooping into mob business.
Apparently Berloff had produced enough usable film there, though. The movie is suddenly over, without having done much more than proving that women can be gangsters pretty much just like their husbands.
Is this a blow for recognition of gender equality? Probably. Is it good story telling? Not if the audience feels as if it has been drug through small panel frames from the end of the previews to the start of the closing credits.