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The Kitchen, a late summer, female-led adaptation of a little-known DC comic, is the worst kind of bad movie.
That’s because it has all the ingredients of a good movie, from a juicy premise to a stellar cast, yet it’s assembled with such staggering incompetency that from the very first scene it boils over into one star territory, all promise evaporating from the screen. The boredom and confusion that then follows is backgrounded by an almost angry frustration that someone could get something so potentially thrilling so very, very wrong.
That someone would seem to be Andrea Berloff, the Oscar-nominated co-writer of Straight Outta Compton, who here makes her directorial debut while also singlehandedly writing the script. It’s refreshing to see a woman given the reins of a female-fronted DC project, given how it remains such a boys’ club but it’s then disheartening to see what an utter mess she makes of it, both with her risible dialogue and scrappy direction. She throws us into 70s New York with a swirling nighttime shot of the city and It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World clunkily explaining the overarching theme of the movie. In Hell’s Kitchen at the time, crime is a man’s business but when their gangster husbands get thrown in jail, it’s up to the wives to step in. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) aren’t natural criminals but financial circumstances dictate that they need to do something and it doesn’t take long for them to realise they’re a better fit than they might have imagined.
There are inevitable echoes of Steve McQueen’s electric thriller Widows, given the set-up, and it’s a comparison which harms The Kitchen in every conceivable way. While McQueen’s film delivered both sharp, impactful action and believably wrought female characters, Berloff’s chucks in three astonishingly underwritten women and coerces them through one confusingly plotted situation to the next. There’s a rhythm that feels off from the start, like hearing a song at the wrong speed or watching a percussion section fail to follow a beat. Scenes either end too soon or go on too long, fights are confusingly choreographed, reaction shots are strangely chosen, editing is baffling – it’s a swirling pot of bad decisions leading to an end dish that’s both undercooked and overheated. It wreaks of studio interference, a film that feels pulled apart and then haphazardly restitched in an editing suite by a committee of people desperate to get it released before swiftly moving on and all agreeing to never speak of it ever again.
Tonally, Berloff can’t decide between broad cartoonish mayhem or gritty Scorsese-lite drama and instead veers maniacally between the two which means her garish excesses and paper-thin characters are often forced into awkward hard-edged solemnity. So much of the film clashes against itself, including, sadly, her cast who can’t quite sell themselves in territory they’re not usually found in. McCarthy, who delivered such an exquisite dramatic turn in last year’s wonderful Can You Ever Forgive Me?, struggles here, relying on her comedic instincts to react unconvincingly to mounting danger, meaning her performance often feels more like an SNL character. It’s a backward step for her but an even worse career move for Haddish, whose comic vibrancy in Girls Trip has been diminishing with each subsequent film. On paper, sidestepping into drama sounded like a smart way to combat audience fatigue but she’s unable to lift herself out of muted, one-note territory, delivering lines without conviction and never exuding the power of a woman who is finally, violently taking control of her life. Of the three it’s Moss, in a rare studio appearance, who comes out of it the least scathed, seeming more comfortable than her co-stars, albeit playing a woman beaten and raped by the men around her, depressingly not far from her most well-known small-screen role.
The premise of women fighting against a patriarchal system in a particularly difficult time period in a particularly tough locale feels ever-prescient and even within the confines of comic book territory, there feels like a much smarter and more intricately layered film that could have been made here. But Berloff never manages to get underneath the surface, despite a number of failed attempts to provide social commentary, and as the film limps toward a shambolic, confusing conclusion, any hope that it might improve is replaced with relief that it’s finally about to end. It’s one of the most scattered and incoherent studio films in recent memory, made with such careless abandon that anyone brave enough to buy a ticket should automatically ask for a refund.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Kitchen review – star cast can’t save undercooked DC Comics disaster | Melissa McCarthy