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Who made a mess of The Kitchen?

THE KITCHEN
directed by Andrea Berloff

A movie about three women who take up their husbands’ careers in crime somehow manages to be both overbaked and underdone.

It’s very easy to imagine, while drifting in an out of The Kitchen’s aimless narrative, a grim medical scene. Tubes, clamps, scalpels, bonesaws. Flickering lights. An operating table. Atop it, the corpse of this film, surrounded by sweaty movie executives in bloodied gowns. In the corner, the film’s actual makers chained up. Because The Kitchen bears all the scars of bungled studio surgery.

Behind this project is a pulpy black comedy, an adaptation of a 2015 DC Comics graphic novel about three Irish mob wives in 1970s New York obliged to take up their husbands’ careers in crime. Yet what has transpired is a kind of thriller with no thrills, a girl-power parable with only the most perfunctory of nods to the radicalism of its era — one character show ups and praise the trio of leading women for being “all Gloria Steinem and shit.”

In Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) and Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip), we have two established comics who don’t tell any jokes, instead spending their time struggling to latch onto any latent emotion. The exceedingly talented Elisabeth Moss looks embarrassed though there is something perversely engaging in her transformation from abuse victim to merciless killer.

But the rest of the film flits erratically between milquetoast potboiler and bloodthirsty noir. It has a parade of scenes that are either languorous or abruptly cut and a plot that evokes only a shrug of interest. The texture of its New York setting has been seared into cinematic history by the likes of Scorsese, but it is a Mean Streets wiped clean of grit, a Goodfellas robbed of paranoia.

Only a few months ago, a superior, sleeker, more artful film was made on this very same subject: Steve McQueen’s Widows. The Kitchen cannot begin to scale the heights of that masterpiece. Better to pretend it never happened. 

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★