The Kitchen shares more than a superficial resemblance to Widows, a solid-if-unspectacular crime drama that came out late last year. Both films open with a gang of whiskered mafia bandits who engage in daring robberies that turn out to be a lot more than they can handle. After both jobs go south, the stories focus on the wives left to sift through the rubble. Their confusion and grief transform into anger, which leads the women toward empowerment, but at the possible cost of their lives. The key distinguishing feature between these cinematic cousins can be found in their quality: Widows is a smarter, harder, tightly-wound thriller, while Kitchen sinks with a script that only grows more mechanical and goofy as it goes along.
It’s early 1978, and the Bronx ain’t the only thing burning in New York. Three Irish mob goons try to knock over a liquor store in Hell’s Kitchen. Turns out the Feds have been tailing the men, and they all get pinched and sent to the clinky-clink. Their wives are left in shivering, distraught silence. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), who had a happy marriage, tries to find a way to pay the bills, but…it’s the 70s and nobody wants to hire a woman with kids. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), whose repugnant mother-in-law (Margo Martindale) serves as matriarch to the mob family, earns the scorn of her husband’s colleagues because she is black. Finally, Claire (Elisabeth Moss) struggles to climb out of the shadow of her abusive marriage.
The mob henchmen mail the trio some money to live on, but it’s only an insulting pittance. Enraged, the women tackle their husbands’ criminal work and find they have a knack for the seedier side of business. They soon find that this sudden success comes at a high price. Their endeavors siphon money from a powerful Italian don (Bill Camp), who makes a lucrative and highly dangerous offer to the new crime kingpins.
That description probably makes Kitchen sound like a damn good movie, and there are moments where it hums along. McCarthy nails the film’s most relatable character, a no-nonsense mother whose decency might be her undoing. Moss turns in more fine work as an emotionally-fractured woman who finds her calling in the deadliest of occupations. All three leads play off each other perfectly, even when the script lets them down. The inevitable conflict that frays their relationship feels forced, and it puts the second half of the movie in a bog. This isn’t helped by the most on-the-nose FM rock soundtrack this side of Forrest Gump. I think it should be a rule: You’re only allowed one song from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. This one has two, and it’s a clear sign that something somewhere’s gone horribly wrong.
It’s always tough when two movies come out close together and cover a lot of the same ground. One of them always suffers by comparison. Wyatt Earp wasn’t horrible, but it paled next to the fury of Tombstone. Deep Impact looked like King Lear next to the vomit comet that was Armageddon. And remember Dante’s Peak and Volcano? Well, both of those movies sucked pretty bad, I guess. With that in mind, Widows is an instant upgrade over The Kitchen. The dialogue is sharper, the action is more effectively-staged, and Viola Davis is always in Oscar-winning mode. Stream that one instead, and give this Diet Scorsese flick a pass.
103 minutes. R.
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