Andrea Berloff’s directorial début is a jumbled crime drama that dearly wants to be Martin Scorsese’s Good Fellas but struggles to strike a consistent tone.
In ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, New York, three women are married to members of the Irish mob, and the expected opening montage introduces them all. Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss) is married to Rob (Jeremy Bobb), who’s vicious and abusive; Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy) loves her Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), who’s pretty dim but wants to go straight; and Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish) lives in a complicated set-up with her nasty husband Kevin (James Badge Dale), whose mother Helen (Margo Martindale) is a feared criminal kingpin herself. And always ready with designed-to-shock racist tirades.
The three blokes all wind up imprisoned for a liquor store robbery and assaulting a pair of FBI agents, Silvers (Common) and Martinez (E.J. Bonilla), and the women then join forces to agonise about their inability to earn money in a man’s world (hey, good name for a song!). They quickly realise that the main leftover local baddie (Myk Watford over-the-top as Little Jackie Quinn) is a fool and a scumbag, decide to go into the protection business themselves, and are helped setting it all up by Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), a long-lost Vietnam vet and minor villain who luckily turns up at just the right moment (whew!).
Gabriel shows the ladies how to dismember and dispose of corpses once they switch to murder and start menacing gangs beyond ‘The Kitchen’, and he’s also helpfully on hand much of the time when they’re in real trouble, which rather spoils the sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves themes. And, of course, the three women eventually don’t know who to trust and naturally begin to turn on each other, as McCarthy and Haddish, both still best-known for comedies, struggle not to turn hammy, and Moss can’t help but look goofy as Claire falls for Gabriel. Which is kind of what he’s there for.
Berloff, a pro screenwriter now mainly known for Straight Outta Compton, also penned this adaptation of Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle’s DC Vertigo graphic novel series, and therefore probably shoulders much of the blame.
Perhaps the biggest problems here are the unfortunate echoes of last year’s Widows (directed by Steve McQueen from Lynda La Plante’s novel), although in that movie the husbands were dead, while here they’re cartoonish morons and bastards. And yes, the desperate need to ‘do a Scorsese’ hangs heavily over the whole production, but no one seems to realise that not even Scorsese can ‘do a Scorsese’ these days.
The Kitchen (MA) is in cinemas now