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With the film’s choice of lead actresses, such as Elisabeth Moss, seen here, its inability to find its footing as a crime drama becomes even more obvious.

Alison Cohen Rosa/Handout

  • The Kitchen
  • Directed by Andrea Berloff
  • Written by Andrea Berloff, Ming Doyle (Comics)
  • Starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss
  • Classification R; 102 min

rating

Oscar-nominated Straight Outta Compton co-writer Andrea Berloff’s feature debut, The Kitchen, based on the DC comics miniseries of the same name, is either a perfect example of a screenwriter not quite ready to make the switch to being behind the camera, or a studio’s insistence at getting a meal on the theoretical table before it’s even fully cooked. Berloff’s film stars comedic heavy weights Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, alongside celebrated Handmaid’s Tale actress Elisabeth Moss, and with such a stacked lineup it should deliver on its promise of a 70s-set crime drama interspersed with pseudofeminist comedic charm. Instead, what The Kitchen serves is a first film sorely in need of a basic primer on how to go about constructing a movie.

New movies in theatres this week: The thoughtfully weighty Luce and the unentertaining Dora and the Lost City of Gold

The premise of Berloff’s adaptation (three women forced to fend for themselves after their mob husbands are sent to prison) has echoes of Steve McQueen’s Widows, and even stylistically clear aspirations to a Scorsese Jr. level of filmmaking, but none of these directors’ artistry or technical know-how. Its plot flies forward haphazardly and without concern for basic details in a way that can only be described as lazy. The film exists as a series of montages (seemingly anything here can exist as a montage) interspersed throughout a story with clear holes and failed maneuverings, alongside editing poor enough to be disorienting, and dialogue which seems to be confused about its purpose. Songs begin and end midway, scenes and dialogue either end abruptly or go on too long, characters are placed strangely in space, if not, as is the case of actor-rapper Common's one-note cop, forgotten altogether, only to be utilized at the most transparent of conveniences. All in all, these elements give the appearance of a film where truncated ideas have been set in as permanent placeholders for actual, refined conclusions.

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With the film’s choice of lead actresses, its inability to find its footing as a crime drama becomes even more obvious. McCarthy and Haddish appear to be waiting to deliver jokes which never come (Haddish, instead, often delivers dramatic lines with a strange comedic tenor). McCarthy in particular, given her recent lauded performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, seems trapped within The Kitchen’s mediocre dialogue and structural deficits. The lackadaisical choices the film makes with its characters and story make its narrative dependence on violence (and the brutalization of women) seem even more senseless, given that these elements don’t have an established, steady tone to build on. More often than not, the story the film is trying to tell seems … well, pointless, given the complete misuse of its fantastic roster and its inability to demonstrate even the basics of apt filmmaking. And what’s worse is it doesn’t seem to care.

The Kitchen feels a bit like a game of telephone that’s gone on far too long, or perhaps, a shoddily written Cole’s Notes entry on its source material. Even its plot twists seem to be forgotten in an instant, with no regard for the interiority of characters. I don’t think it’s entirely Berloff’s fault, but there is a bit of a “if it walks like a duck …” feel to the film overall. Does it have actors that speak lines? Does it have a camera that films action? Will it (likely) make money? The answers to all of these is, of course, yes, but is The Kitchen a functioning (or even entertaining) movie? Only in semblance.

The Kitchen opens Aug. 9

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