Just because a movie is a comic book adaptation it does not mean it has to tell a fantastical story. Ghost World, From Hell, and A History of Violence all have realistic settings. The Kitchen is and adaptation of a DC Vertigo comic that has an interesting premise and a strong cast. Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss are three wives who are looking to take over the Irish crime world of Hell’s Kitchen after their mobster husbands are sent to prison. A movie about female empowerment with strong female leads seems tailor made for awards season. That does not happen for a number of reasons.
The talented cast is never used properly. Though McCarthy is known for her many comedic roles, she has also shown she can be successful in a more dramatic pictures. She is an Academy Award nominated actress who has done a good job of not letting herself be typecast. Still, she is most familiar for films like Bridesmaids and The Heat. Meanwhile, Haddish has always tackled funnier fare. In order for The Kitchen to work at least one of two things has to happen: the movie has to be funny or the leads have to do stellar jobs.
Regrettably, neither happens. It is not so much the fault of the women as the script does not give them much to work with. The Kitchen immediately becomes a fast paced tale that never lets its stars have time to develop or do anything meaningful. McCarthy is only given one or two moments that show how funny she can be. More often than not, it is as if the writers were preventing McCarthy from playing up her naturally funny side. The problem is the script never gives her a chance to show off the rest of her acting range. It is never bad – McCarthy is way too good – it just is painfully mediocre.
Haddish is placed in a tougher position. She is given a prominent role and is very out of place playing a no nonsense badass. Haddish’s charm has always been in how effortlessly funny she is. The Kitchen never gives her that opportunity deciding instead to make her a one note character. She has a chip on her shoulder from when she is introduced and the character never changes.
Moss is almost an afterthought, She plays another trope that never really endears herself to anyone. It is obvious the audience is supposed to feel bad for her then cheer for her as she changes. Apparently, there is a point where she should be feared, but it never really comes across like that. The worst part is, Moss’s character Claire would have been a perfect vehicle to drive home one of the movie’s apparent themes.
The script may be the biggest problem with The Kitchen. It is hard to tell what sort of story it is trying to tell. Is it a cautionary tale? The abrupt ending would have you think otherwise. Is it a story about female empowerment? Considering they never truly do anything on their own and have to lean on tougher or more experienced males, I would disagree. Is it about corruption, betrayal, racism? It is impossible to tell since the writing tries so hard to touch on so many different things. It leads to a story that seems more pointless than anything else.
The pacing is also poorly executed. Crime stories are character driven films that are more about the cast than the deeds they are committing. This is especially true of a story that involves characters completely changing their lives. The Kitchen never lets the audience get to know any of the characters. Claire’s husband beats her, Ruby is black so is an outsider in the Irish community, and Kathy is smart, but lives under her husband’s rules. That’s it. Characters die and the movie has shocking twists and revelations, but nothing really matters. There are multiple big bads introduced. Most are dealt with quickly and with little fanfare (one is actually killed off screen). If the movie does not care for its characters, then why should I?
The Kitchen does worse than not live up to its promise. It actively tries to live down to any expectations anyone may have had. It is lazy, nonsensical, and worst of all, boring. It seems to want to be a deep moving tale about people who have been held down fighting against the people and ideas that have oppressed them. In trying to sound important, it never tries to be good.