The Kitchen

I’ve never been able to cook. I even burn frozen pizzas. Yet there was a time I first moved out and lived on my own, that I gave it the ol’ college try. I was out of college, working a job in radio that paid very little, and I thought if I cooked it would save me some money. I bought a lot of ingredients I liked, and started dicing onions and vegetables, and felt rather proud of myself. It was smelling delicious, and I had a smile on my face, with an old jukebox I had in my kitchen blasting out classic rock songs on 45s. But when I sat down to eat, it didn’t taste that great. I kept trying to convince myself it was better. I could taste all the cilantro I threw in, and the other fresh ingredients. I started to think of the money I spent on everything. The time I spent doing it all, and how much easier it would’ve been to get take-out from somewhere I like. Probably didn’t even save any money cooking. That experience in the kitchen, reminded me of the movie The Kitchen.

All the ingredients were there. Three talented actresses, giving solid performances (although my wife and I can’t quite figure out why Tiffany Haddish has these little tics when she’s acting serious or angry). The ‘70s classic rock jukebox was terrific. There were a few Fleetwood Mac tunes (one of my favorites — Gold Dust Woman). It started off with Etta James doing a cover of James Brown’s It’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World. In the barroom scenes, I heard Foghat, Montrose, and Skynyrd (one of my favorites — Simple Man). That song works well for obvious reasons (and made me wonder why we didn’t hear Alice Cooper’s Only Women Bleed).

There were songs by Kansas, Baby Huey (the appropriate “Hard Times”) and Heart. Melanie’s incredible cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is in there, and there’s a great score by Bryce Dessner (The Revenant), with some timpani drums that often punctuate the action nicely.

So…what went wrong with the movie that thought it was Widows (Viola Davis)? First, everyone needs to stop praising Widows. It had some fine moments, but was rather disappointing.

You know from the commercials, that this is a mob movie with a gender swap, and probably wants points for women empowerment. There’s nothing more intimidating than seeing three women come into your shop and tell you they’re offering “protection.” 

I tried making my wife laugh by leaning in and saying, “If they tell them to leave the gun and take the cannoli,” they probably will. And they’ll start talking about other desserts that would’ve gone well with the meal, instead of what they’re going to do when their Irish mobster husbands get out of the joint…or what they’re going to do about that pesky Italian mob over in Brooklyn (side note: my wife made the interesting observation that “It’s a weird mob movie when it’s the Italian guys that are the only ones in the entire movie with a code of ethics.”)

In the opening credits, I saw this was a former DC comic book turned into a movie. It’s also the directorial debut for Andrea Berloff, who got an Oscar nomination for co-writing Straight Outta Compton. 

The cast is good, until you really start thinking about all their actions. Then it all becomes so corny and unbelievable. For example, Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) is abused by her husband, yet when an old flame shows up (Domnhall Gleeson, who surprisingly plays a scary hitman well)…she all of a sudden turns into a tough broad. It’s the type of character Tarantino would write.

Melissa McCarthy has already proven she can act in serious pictures (St. Vincent and Can You Ever Forgive Me?). She’s convincing as a loving wife and a good mother, but too many times she shows up in scenes looking like she’s ready to start bawling, with tears welled up in her eyes.

The story takes place in Hell’s Kitchen, in the late ‘70s. When the husbands get locked up, crime boss Little Jackie (Myk Watford) promises to take care of them. Yet they don’t get enough money to pay the rent, so they start collecting money on their own. It was a little perplexing when the women start to collect money from businesses that aren’t paying, and the businesses start talking about the service they aren’t getting. You see, bums are showing up outside, they’ve been robbed by hooligans, etc. Uh…someone might need to explain to Berloff that…the mob was extorting money from businesses or they’d do harm to them. 

Anyway, the women are now flush. The husbands get out, and…you can guess how they take this. Oh, and the Italians. Did I mention the Italians? They meet with the women, and seem to be working out a decent arrangement.

Berloff can write some sharp dialogue, and she certainly captured the gritty streets of New York. The tone of the film is a bit uneven, though.

Often times, this movie had scenes that made me think of better mob movies. Actress Margo Martindale, who I usually love, is awful in this. Her accent doesn’t work, and neither does her character — which at times remind me of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, or Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom. 

Character actor Wayne Duvall is great playing McCarthy’s dad — but it reminded me of Martin Sheen in Wall Street.

It was fun seeing Bill Camp as the Italian crime boss. He always makes films better when he shows up.

Oh, can we also stop casting Common in so many films? Once every few years would be enough.

And perhaps one of the biggest problems is that we really never root for these women. At first we feel bad for their plight, but then they just become violent criminals.

I missed the screenings they had for this, but a good friend of mine was rushed to the hospital — and after visiting him, I figured the Reading Town Square was just a few miles away. Since the movie only got around 20% on Rotten Tomatoes and was 7th on the highest grossing list for this weekend — I wasn’t that hopefully. I told my wife as we were leaving, “It was a little better than I thought it would be.”

She replied, “Not for me.”

2 stars out of 5.

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