Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss can’t quite spice up the underdone intrigue of this ’70s-set comic book adaptation.
Andrea Berloff’s take on the DC comic The Kitchen should be great. With Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss as the stars, it should be impossible for it to be anything but. However, that’s not what we get. Instead, we get a solidly mediocre action flick that could’ve and should’ve been so much more.
Set in 1978, McCarthy stars as Kathy Brennan, an Irish housewife to mobster Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James) and friend to fellow mob wives Claire Walsh (Moss), wife of the abusive Rob (Jeremy Bobb) and Ruby O’Carroll (Haddish), wife of hot-head ringleader Kevin (James Badge Dale). When their husbands are busted by the FBI and sent to prison, the wives left behind have to figure out how to make ends meet. Ultimately, they decide that they can run their husbands’ empire better than they could. But this is the gritty, brutal New York of Taxi Driver, and they’re not going to be able to lead without a fight — and they can’t fight without being willing to spill some blood.
What unfolds, then, is not a series of soft ladies luncheons that prove women can rule with a velvet glove instead of an iron fist, oh, no. It’s a true knock-down, drag-out fight for supremacy on Manhattan’s west side. This plot clearly has all the makings of a killer ride, so where does it go wrong?
McCarthy more than proved her dramatic chops with her turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Haddish is still riding high off her scene-stealing role in Girls Trip, while Moss continues to be a powerhouse go-to for atypical roles. But the trio’s talents are rather wasted here.
This plot clearly has all the makings of a killer ride, so where does it go wrong?
Moss, in particular, has shockingly little to do. In The Handmaid’s Tale, she’s shown a flair for portraying women that refused to be knocked down, no matter how grim the circumstances, with nuance—skills that should have been well-used in the character of Claire. Claire’s tired of being beaten and bullied by her husband and taken advantage of by men everywhere, but her transformation from meek dormouse to gun-toting badass falls flat.
Similarly, Haddish’s talents are utterly wasted. We see almost none of the sharp wit she’s known for. While it’s sensible that she wouldn’t want to go as outlandish as her comedic roles, there was a way to translate that sharpness into this more dramatic part. Instead, she’s either boxed in by the script or perhaps even too unsure of herself to bring more life to the part, making what could have been a rich role feel stale.
The Kitchen knows how to communicate the general outline of the story’s emotional beats, but it has absolutely no idea how to make any of them land. When Kathy and Ruby’s relationship grows tense and finally comes roaring to a head, instead of cheering or biting my nails in anticipation, I was staring dead-eyed at the screen with a shrug.
Don’t get me wrong, The Kitchen isn’t boring. The plot moves at a clip and has a few fun twists and turns, the problem is just that it never figured out how to make me actually care about these characters. It gets everything wrong that Steve McQueen’s stellar Widows (2018) gets 100% right. Side-by-side, it’s no question which is the superior flick—between Gillian Flynn’s script and Viola Davis’s commanding performance, it’s Widows in a landslide.
That said, The Kitchen makes for more enjoyable fare than much of what’s hitting the screen in the dregs of summer. It might not be your favorite flick or even a particularly memorable one, but it’s also not a half-bad way to spend a humid afternoon.
The Kitchen is in theaters now.