The Kitchen is a crime film about Hell's Kitchen, one of the most dangerous places in the USA during the 70's and tells the story of how a group of women took over a neighborhood controlled by dangerous families. If the three female leads had a girls' night out, and Elisabeth Moss dared the comedians to test their acting skills in a drama, then the result would be this hurried, failed experiment.
First time feature director Andrea Berloff has her gangster movie down to a science but seems to have rushed through the art that is required to differentiate it from others. While the focus of the plot stays mostly on track, the exploration of the bond among the three strong women is missing, and all the meat of gender, race, and class issues that could have been added are replaced by tropes and more violence.
When three members of the mob get pinched during a liquor store heist gone awry, they go to jail, leaving their families to fend for themselves. The wives realize that they now have to figure out how to survive without support, so they decide to go into the family business of crime as a team.
Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) is the happy wife with a criminal, yet good husband who cares about her and their family. In such a tumultuous place and time, she breaks down the role of a woman to her kids through some world building and backstory conversations set in the home. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) is the emotionally abused wife, whose life consists of being belittled by both her husband and her mother-in-law. She's also a black woman in a predominantly white Irish mobster's world. Claire (Elisabeth Moss) is the physically abused wife, whose husband is quick to anger and corporal violence. She wants to learn the business and a more active role in life.
The three women try to make the best of their oppressed, seemingly futile lives by forming a team. They stick with what they know, the family business of charging people money to protect the welfare of their businesses.
Needless to say, the protection racket during that time is already thriving. And thus, they discover that they have some really nasty rivals and are forced to truly embrace the grisly details of killing their enemies and seeking a nearby river to dispose of their bodies. Inevitably, they must figure out what it means to be part of a family or risk turning on themselves.
The strong but familiar theme is trumped by almost cartoonish violence and dialogue. Influenced by a plethora of better gangster movies, The Kitchen not only has nothing new to say, but also suffers from its brisk pacing: montages over slow, drawn-out character-building scenes that allow the characters to grow emotionally. The main characters are basically given a brief reason for their motive, and then they transform almost instantly into the darker, mob version of themselves.
At the onset, the formula for The Kitchen seems promising: a girl-power dark comedy with intense violence, based on the Vertigo Comics series. Toss in some star power and blazing guns, and it should have been a blockbuster. Instead it's just a buster. Ultimately, it's too violent for the comedy-going crowd and too dark in general, lacking purpose to go with its punch.