A scene from "The Kitchen"
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By Eleanor Ringel Cater

“The Kitchen” is about three women who can handle the heat and still want out of the kitchen. They want to move into The Kitchen, as in Hell’s Kitchen, that peculiar slice of Manhattan in the 40s and 50s stretching from 8thAvenue west.

A scene from “The Kitchen”
A scene from “The Kitchen”

The year is 1978 and the Irish Mob is still a force in the city. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are married to the mob. Literally. When their husbands botch a job and get sent up river for several years, the women discover they can’t exactly count on “family” to take care of them.

So they take matters in their own hands. They begin running protection for local merchants. They start making arrangements with potential rivals like the Hassidic Jews who run the diamond district and the Italians who run, well, just about anything they want.

The “laddies” whose turf the ladies have taken over aren’t exactly happy, but they don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.  Perhaps that’s because “The Kitchen” is based on a graphic novel, a genre where impact takes precedence over credibility.

Sometimes this works wonderfully. Like, when a handsome psycho (Domhnall Gleeson) turns up in time to show the women how to dispose of a corpse. Mostly importantly, you have to puncture the lungs so that, after you dump it in the river, the body doesn’t float to the surface.

But in the scene before this, Claire, who knows her husband’s pals are ready to do her in, blithely takes the garbage out, on her own, at night, to a dark alley. I mean…??

“The Kitchen” movie poster
“The Kitchen” movie poster

That’s the essential problem with “The Kitchen.” It’s all over the place. Sometimes it’s a black comedy, sometimes, it’s a hard-edged gangster flick, sometimes it’s a feminist tract.  In a sense, these women are dealing with the same problems that Gloria Steinem was talking about, but they work things out in drive-by shootings, not consciousness-raising groups.

The cast is wonderful, from Moss eagerly learning how to chop up a body to McCarthy’s owning her own power to Haddish in a paisley shirtwaist, pulling a Richard Widmark (ask your film freak friends)

The supporting players are equally delicious, especially Bill Camp as a silky Italian don and, most especially, Miriam Margolyes, (channeling Harvey Fierstein in “Hairspray”) as the formidable matriarch of the Irish gang our protagonists intend to take over.

Still, despite all the talent including director Andrea Berloff who wrote the electrifying script for “Straight Out of Compton,” the movie remains scattered and, occasionally incoherent. You won’t have a bad time at “The Kitchen,” but you’ll sense you could’ve had a much better one.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE...

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