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"THE KITCHEN"
(2019) (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: With their husbands in prison, three late 1970s era wives decide to take over the Irish mob operations in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.
PLOT:
It's 1978 and mob wives Kathy Brennan (MELISSA MCCARTHY), Ruby O'Carroll (TIFFANY HADDISH) and Claire Walsh (ELISABETH MOSS) have found themselves in tough financial straits, what with their husbands -- Jimmy (BRIAN d'ARCY JAMES), Kevin (JAMES BADGE DALE) and Rob (JEREMY BOBB) respectively -- having just been sent to prison for beating up FBI agents Gary Silvers (COMMON) and Gonzalo Martinez (E.J. BONILLA) in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.

Kevin's mother, Helen O'Carroll (MARGO MARTINDALE), is the figurehead of the Irish mob there, but it's the men below her who run the business. And while they've paid the three wives some support money, it's not enough to get by. Accordingly, and upon hearing that local businesses aren't paying their "fees" because they aren't being protected, the three women decide that not only will they start collecting that money, but they'll start taking over day to day business operations.

That doesn't sit well with the men, but Kathy's family members in the mob back them, as does military vet and hitman Gabriel O'Malley (DOMHNALL GLEESON) who shows up to provide them with protection, all while courting Claire who's done with her abusive husband.

And the women might just need their protection, what with Italian mob boss Alfonso Coretti (BILL CAMP) not being pleased with them cutting into his business and especially with the trio's husbands getting out of prison sooner than expected.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I'm happy to admit that I know next to nothing about the mafia -- past or present -- in real life. Sure, I'll hear the occasional news story about some mob figure who's been charged or imprisoned for some sort of crime.

But, like most people, the vast majority of my knowledge comes from the movies and TV shows, and while I guess that some or maybe even most try to be as accurate as possible, I'm guessing one degree of another of artistic liberties are taken with the way such people and organizations operate.

That certainly would seem to be the case in "The Kitchen," a mob drama that lurks around black comedy world from time to time in telling its tale of a trio of women who decide to take over organized crime operations when their husbands are collectively sent off to prison.

The movie -- written and directed by Andrea Berloff -- is based on the DC Vertigo comic book of the same name (and for which I have zero exposure) and perhaps that explains the ease at which the women -- played by Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss -- manage to accomplish just that. In the male and mob dominated world of late 1970s Hell's Kitchen in New York.

In a way, it's sort of a kissing cousin to 2018's far better crime drama "Widows" where a small group of women take to crime to pay off bad debt owed to a criminal by their husbands who've left them in financial straits thanks to, as the title suggests, a group visit by the Grim Reaper.

Here, people die, but not the husbands -- played by Brian d'Arcy James, James Badge Dale and Jeremy Bobb -- at least not initially, as the women do some of that dirty work themselves when not accompanied by a few male assistants, such as the military vet turned hitman played by Domhnall Gleeson.

His scenes with Moss' Claire -- where he teaches her not only how to assassinate others but also how to dismember and dispose of those body parts -- are where the flick gets a bit whacky and starts veering off into black comedy territory that doesn't really jive with the rest of the material. Maybe that works in the comic book, but Berloff doesn't manage to meld it convincingly into the rest of the film.

Perhaps with a much greater emphasis on such dark satire, the offering might have worked better and not wasted the talent of its three leading ladies who try their best to make a go of it, but simply can't keep the viewer engaged. Or make anyone believe -- short of having some sort of never-exposed telekinetic comic book superhero power -- that these women could take over the operations with such relative ease and speed.

Sure, a few obstacles pop up now and then -- such as a Brooklyn based Italian mob boss (Bill Camp) not being happy with their rise to power -- but even that is brushed off fairly quickly and easily. The result is a dish where the ingredients put together in "The Kitchen" simply don't come together into a satisfying or appetizing whole. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed August 6, 2019 / Posted August 9, 2019


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