THE KITCHEN – Review by Lana Wilson-Combs

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The Kitchen stars Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Tiffany Haddish (Night School and Girls Trip) and Elisabeth Moss (TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) as the wives of Irish mobsters living in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.

It’s a hard-knocks life for all of them. Claire Walsh (Moss) fares the worst of the bunch because her husband Rob (Jeremy Bobb, TV’s Jessica Jones) beats her and sadly she puts up with it. Ruby O’Carroll (Haddish) is being played by her cheating husband Kevin (James Badge Dale, TV’s Hightown). As if that weren’t humiliating enough, Ruby is also subjected to insulting and racist comments from her mother-in-law Helen (the fabulous Margo Martindale, TV’s DuckTales). Kathy Brennan (McCarthy) has a love/hate relationship with her man Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James, First Man). She’s sticking around mainly for her two kids.

The women’s lives take a turn for the better when their husbands are busted for robbing a convenience store and assaulting an FBI agent who is played by rapper Common (The Hate U Give). The guys get three years at Rikers Island. Claire (Moss) and Ruby (Haddish) are thrilled.

Then reality sets in. What are they going to do for money since their husbands are in the pen?

At first it seems as if they’ll be taken care of by Little Jackie Quinn (Myk Watford, TV’s True Detective). He’s the guy assigned to look after everyone when these types of situations arise. But Little Jackie is a big, money-grubbing, power hungry punk looking to line his pockets. He couldn’t care less about Ruby, Claire or Kathy. When they ask him for money, he barely gives them enough to pay their rent.

Something must give and fast. So, the women decide to pick up where their husband left off and take over Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a bold move, but they’re tough and smart.

Soon, Kathy, Ruby and Claire and a few hired helpers make their moves. They start squeezing out the old mobsters and force business owners to pay them instead of Little Jackie. Not everyone is on board with this new shakedown, but those who don’t comply soon come around or wind up in the hands of Claire’s old love interest Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson, Goodbye Christopher Robin) which is a very bad thing. Gabriel is a pro and gives the women tips on how to properly dismember and dispose of dead bodies.

The women also become so good at making tons of money, that they draw the attention of longtime Brooklyn gangster Alfonso Coretti (a terrific Bill Camp (Vice). He wants a piece of the action and tries to intimidate them. It doesn’t work. They end up making him an offer he can’t refuse.

There are a couple of startling plot twists that turn up the heat in The Kitchen involving McCarthy and her husband Jimmy.

McCarthy, who garnered critical acclaim for her bravura performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me? last year, comes through again here. Moss is equally compelling as she moves from being the timid and abused wife, to a stone-cold killer who relishes her new occupation. However, the biggest surprise is Haddish who is best known for her raucous comedies. Haddish dials the funny way back with her powerful character Ruby to reveal a dramatic side of her that most people probably have never seen before.

Except for last year’s excellent, but largely overlooked movie, Widows, from director Steve McQueen, there haven’t been many female driven gangster movies. It’s traditionally a male genre. With The Kitchen director Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) flips the script and has cooked up a savory, little crime thriller.

The Kitchen (***1/2 Out Of Four Stars).

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Lana Wilson-Combs

Lana Wilson-Combs has more than 20 years experience as a journalist. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor's of Arts Degree in Radio/Television, but began her career as a sports writer in the Bay Area at the Oakland Post newspaper before becoming a movie critic and entertainment writer. She is the founder of and on-air movie critic for KFBK Radio Station in Sacramento, California where she currently resides.