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Everything But the Sink

Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy
Warner Brothers
 102 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed ByAndrea Berloff
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish
The Kitchen

The low point of Melissa McCarthy’s career probably came last August, when her R-rated puppet comedy, The Happytime Murders, was a critical and box-office dud that rightly made several worst-of-the-year lists. She soon rebounded, however, with perhaps her best effort in Can You Ever Forgive Me? which rightly brought her an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, her good fortune seems to be short-lived, because it’s August again and she’s landed in another dud, The Kitchen, despite an excellent cast around her and a terrific premise. The film may have everything but the kitchen sink, but director Andrea Berloff just couldn’t get the recipe right.


The Kitchen is a gangster tale with a heck of a twist. The setting is Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, where the Irish mob runs the rackets in large part because the Italians in Brooklyn don’t want to get involved. Apparently, running numbers and protection rackets don’t bring in enough of a steady income, because three of the mobster higher-ups try to pull off a convenience store robbery and easily get picked up by FBI agent Gary Silvers (Common). When they go away for three years, control of the mob passes to Little Jackie (Myk Watford), a screw-up who is the younger brother of one of the mobsters who went away.


The robbers’ wives, Kathy (McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss), hope that the mob will take care of them in their husbands’ absence. Eventually, Kathy realizes that the three women know as much about running a criminal organization as the guys left in charge, so they start taking over the protection racket and, with a couple of low-level hoods they recruit for muscle, begin running the rackets like a customer-friendly business. And, when Little Jackie reacts predictably poorly to what’s going on, he soon winds up in various pieces in the East River, thanks to Claire and her new boyfriend Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), a disturbed Vietnam vet turned hitman.


Naturally, this relatively prosperous and peaceful state of affairs doesn’t last when the three husbands get out of jail. Both Ruby’s and Claire’s husbands had abused them before being arrested, and they try to pick up right where they left off. Also, Ruby’s husband, Kevin (James Badge Dale), tries to elbow Ruby and Kathy out of the way and reassume his leadership position. Kathy’s husband Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James) is a much nicer person, but he feels useless and out of place without anything to do under Kathy’s leadership.


For starters, the thought of Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish sharing the same screen probably conjured up visions among some potential moviegoers of an all-time laugh riot. Somehow, neither they nor any of their talented co-stars managed to generate a single laugh that I can remember. It’s not for lack of comic possibilities. The Kitchen has several scenes that could have been quite funny had they been handled correctly. The best example is a ghoulish sequence in which the three women and Gabriel figured out how to saw the body of one of their victims in pieces and then dump them in the river. Since this is not an Eli Roth movie, viewers don’t get to see the actual dismemberment, but the timing and camerawork of the scene are all wrong, meaning that the audience doesn’t see anything that might reinforce their inclination to laugh.


The majority of the blame for the frequent ineptness of the film goes to director Andrea Berloff, who is best known for co-writing Straight Outta Compton, but seems to have no clue how to put a movie together. The screenplay jumps around in time with transitions occurring much too quickly. Characters change allegiances at the drop of a hat with no support for their actions from the screenplay. Action scenes, in particular, are poorly staged, especially one in which veteran actress Margot Martindale (who always animates every film she’s in) exits the picture most confusingly.


The best character arc belongs to Elisabeth Moss as Clare. The character of the battered wife who comes into her own (here with some support from a man) has been done many times before, but Moss gives Clare a certain raw edge not usually seen here. Of course, in a movie like this, almost all the mobsters Clare and the others eliminate richly deserved it, but Moss displays a visceral intensity that makes her character work.


The same can’t be said for her two co-stars, and the failure of their characters certainly isn’t for lack of trying. The Kitchen is based on the premise that a woman’s touch is all that’s needed to be a highly successful gangster whom everyone in the community will love. To that end, McCarthy trots out her sweet, lovable persona minus any vestige of humor. I never for a minute bought into the idea that she could actually go from sending the kids off to school to sending a rival off the East River.


Tiffany Haddish actually has the most complex role in the movie. Ruby is a trophy wife of an abusive gangster who wants something exotic every now and then. Her mother-in-law (Martindale) is a walking volcano of dysfunctionality, spewing and affecting everyone she comes across. Ruby has to maneuver around her mother-in-law and deal with both racial and sexual prejudice. On her way to the top, Ruby manages to change character several times. It’s a challenging role, but while Haddish is up to the task, the writing of her character isn’t. Every time a twist occurs, it feels more like a contrivance than something that arises naturally from the script. The finale, in particular, feels like it came from a completely different film than most of what happened before.


The Kitchen illustrates the difference between what makes a successful graphic novel and what a successful film requires. I can see how this story would have worked in comic book format, with minimal dialogue interspersed with panels of women blasting away at their male rivals. But a film needs more detail. The Road to Perdition was a great example of a successful adaptation. The Kitchen, on the other hand, never leaves its comic book roots far behind. It’s a mediocre lost opportunity, hidden behind inept direction, livened by the occasional solid performance. In a summer film season desperately in need of quality adult counterprogramming, The Kitchen just isn’t the right recipe.

In this featurette, Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss discuss shooting on location in New York City.

Read other reviews of The Kitchen: 

The Kitchen (2019) on IMDb