“THE KITCHEN” OFFERS ONLY FEW TASTY BITS IN CRIME DRAMA
A Film Review by Tim Riley
“THE KITCHEN” (Rated R) The empowerment of women in the crime business is hardly a new premise, and the gritty, female-driven mob drama “The Kitchen,” with strong leading characters, doesn’t break a lot of new ground.
Only a year ago, Sandra Bullock assembled a female team for a stylish robbery of an art museum in “Ocean’s 8,” and “Widows” followed wives executing a heist after their husbands were killed in a botched getaway.
Sophisticated illicit behavior is not what is in store when mob wives in “The Kitchen” take a criminal enterprise into their own hands after their not-so-bright husbands are caught robbing a liquor store.
The setting is 1978 New York City, when Times Square, far from the global attraction it is now, was seedy and dangerous, where drug dealers and prostitutes roamed freely in an area populated with sex shops and peep shows.
The grittiness of that era overran the nearby neighborhood of midtown Manhattan known as Hell’s Kitchen, a bastion of working-class Irish-Americans in a place that later on succumbed to inevitable gentrification.
The Irish thugs in Hell’s Kitchen were obviously not Rhodes scholars. Kevin O’Carroll (James Badge Dale), Jimmy Brennan (Bryan D’Arcy James) and Rob Walsh (Jeremy Bobb) get caught in an ill-conceived holdup.
Working for Irish gang boss Little Jackie (Myk Watford), the foot soldiers for the mob had been under surveillance by an FBI crew run by agent Gary Silvers (Common).
When Kevin, Jimmy and Rob are sent to prison, their respective wives Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) expect that the gang leader will provide for their welfare as loyal spouses.
No such luck is forthcoming from the odious Little Jackie, who shorts their take to the extent that the wives don’t even get enough to pay the rent, let alone put food on the table.
The situation is no better with the Irish mob matriarch Helen O’Carroll (Margo Martindale), a nasty racist who despises the fact that her son Kevin had the audacity to marry a black woman.
The absence of financial support and inability to find gainful employment is a big problem for the ladies, especially for Kathy who has two small children to feed and clothe.
Ruby prods the other two desperate housewives to seize an opportunity to fill a void created by the incapacity of their husbands to provide protection to local businesses they had long subjected to extortion.
But Kathy and Claire, though facing dire circumstances, are not so easily convinced to make a risky move that would inevitably lead to getting on the wrong side of Little Jackie’s hair-trigger temper.
Albeit grudgingly, Kathy realizes the need to take care of her family, and Claire, who has been scarred by the emotional and physical abuse of her vicious spouse, slowly comes around to gaining some self-respect.
In short order, the three women take Hell’s Kitchen by storm, offering better deals and superior protection to the businesses, aided by the fact they poached on some of Little Jackie’s crew for the muscle needed to help their clients.
Their seemingly effortless success as enforcers is readily apparent when counting such large piles of cash that they can’t even keep track of this new revenue stream.
It’s almost surprising that they are not immediately buying furs and expensive jewelry, although they start wearing nicer apparel, and Claire wonders if they should dress up for a sit-down with a rival gang.
Getting deeper into the criminal world proves to be liberating as well as transformative for the women. They soon exhibit brutally violent tendencies that hardly set them apart their male counterparts.
The ladies get some extra help from hitman Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), who has been on sabbatical outside the city but has not lost his touch on how to dismember his victims for easier disposal in the Hudson River.
Brooklyn-based Italian mob boss Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp) is so intrigued by the aggression and business sense that Kathy, Ruby and Claire display that he offers a partnership deal they can either accept or reject at their own peril.
Destructive behavior is on full display when the ladies shake down a group of Hassidic Jews to use their approved construction workers on a major development project. The lone holdout meets a fatal end.
Things get really dicey when the husbands are released early from prison and think that they should shove the women aside and take back what they consider their rightful positions within the mob.
Conflict becomes unavoidable, leading to some double-crosses, surprising twists and brutal retributions. Ugliness is no surprise when one of the women has no qualms about dismembering dead victims in a bathtub.
While the female leads deliver good performances, the film is a thinly-drawn generic gangster movie that fails to make the women entirely convincing as criminals.
In the final analysis, “The Kitchen,” although it nicely captures the period details of a decaying metropolis, proves to be a crime story that is equally predictable and yet not credible.