Review – Baking with Bullets (“The Kitchen”)

No, this isn’t a movie about renovating your home or about Gordon Ramsey screaming at you about your over-cooked shrimp scampi. If the premise of this movie sounds familiar (three women banding together ’cause their criminal husbands are gone), it’s because you’ve already seen the plot in last years Widows film.

In 1978’s Hell’s Kitchen in NYC, this has been a very bad week for Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire Walsh (Elizabeth Moss). Their mob husbands have all been sent to prison for three years after pulling a heist and worst of all, their boss, crime lord Little Jackie (Myk Watford) promises to “take care of the ladies”, but really could care less. Out of desperation and fear, the three girls band together and start to pick up the protection money in town that belongs to Little Jackie. Seems the local businesses in town like them better than the regular goons that collect.

Not wanting to be upstaged by some women, Jackie tries to get rid of them, but fortunately the girls have a revenging angel in their pockets: returning assassin Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), who meets cute with Claire after showing her the fine art of (ick!!) dismembering a corpse. Once Jackie is bye-bye, the girls run Hell’s Kitchen and the money starts to roll in, which catches the attention of the Italian crime lord over in Brooklyn, Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp). Since the women are so profitable and have a knack at negotiating, he suggests not only a truce, but a joint collaboration.

Ah, but with great power comes great responsibility… and a lot more killings. As the women grow in power, strength, and personal growth, they also become quite lethal and liberal with the bullets. The body count rises, the blood flows, and just about then their husbands return home early from prison! Uh-oh! Naturally, the men wanted their seat of power back, but will these ruthless women let them? What do you think?

Writer/director Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton, Blood Father) must’ve watched alot of Martin Scorsese films like Goodfellas, The Departed, and Casino and decided, “Hey, I can do that, too!”. Heaping helping of shootings, murders, head-shots, and gruesome deaths lie in store for the movie-goer who thinks this is simple movie about three women who become mob bosses themselves, like on TV’s Good Girls. Well, yeah, that happens, but so much more. And less. Berloff, like Scorsese, weaves a intricate crime story laced with intrigue and murder, but unlike Scorsese, Berloff lacks the originality and gravitas to make it connect.

Not for want of trying, mind you. Berloff gives us the stereotypical kinda movie where practically all the men are horrible, wife-beating, psychopaths and all the women are smart, tough, empowered, and willing to do anything to get what they need. The path from scared housewife to powerful gangster or victimized women to a ruthless killin’ machine takes only a few, simple, easy montages. Clichés run amok with crosses and double-crosses, along with trite dialogue, and some curious direction that looks like Berloff was trying to copy Scorsese in some scenes.

However, as dull and unimpressive as this picture is, I will give credit to the actors. McCarthy & Haddish, known for their comedy, turn in bravura and wonderful dramatic performances as the leaders of the gang, showing the pitfalls as the balance of power shifts within a gang. Moss, as the battle-scarred wife, really shows the most change as she grows in leaps and bounds, with help from her killer boyfriend, Gleeson; also excellent. Also Bill Camp, surprisingly, does NOT go into your A-typical Italian mob-boss persona you see in so many of these movies. Refreshing. 

Set It Off (1996)

Crime doesn’t pay, but this movie sure did! Four young black women robbing banks, and how their lives were turned topsy-turvy in the process, is the subject matter of this slick action crime flick. Starring some of the hottest talents on screen this movie, although formulaic, had some exceptional writing and direction. We start in downtown L.A. and a bank robbery gone bad.

Francesca “Frankie” Sutton (Vivica A. Fox) is a bank teller who, even though she witnessed the robbery and knew one of the gunmen, is nonetheless fired. She’s forced to go to work at loathsome Luther’s Janitorial Services with her three best friends: Lida “Stony” Newsom (Jada Pinkett) who just lost her brother to a recent police shooting, hot head and crazy Cleopatra “Cleo” Sims (Queen Latifah), and struggling single mother Tisean “T.T.” Williams (Kimberly Elsie). Earning next to nothing and treated like dirt, Cleo suggest they should rob a bank.

At first some disagree, but after T.T.’s baby is taken away by Child Protective Serves over a slight mishap, they’re all in. The first bank they rob proves easy as pie, but only gets them a paltry $12K. This brings out toothpick-chomping LAPD detective Strode (Ted C. McGinley). He suspects that Cleo, Frankie, and Stony, are involved but can’t quite get enough evidence. The girls decide on another robbery and hit pay dirt; a whopping $750K! Ecstatic, they decide to lay low and hide the money until they can blow town, but there’s a problem. Their nasty boss finds the hidden cash, spends it, and then T.T. kills him self-defense.

Even with murder now on their plate, the four broke girls decide on… that’s right… another bank robbery. Stoney calls her bank manager boyfriend (Blair Underwood) first to get him out of the way, then the hit is on. But disaster strikes as Strode shows up and the bullets fly. That’s when the girls escape, the car chase begins, and you have a sad ending to a rather poignant, but noisy movie.

Kate Lanier (Beauty Shop) and Takashi Bufford (Booty Call) are more accustomed to writing wacky sex comedies than gritty crime dramas, so this film comes off as more of a bank robbery movie sandwiched in-between a Waiting To Exhale chick-flick. Unfocused in it’s path, it seemed the writers wanted to pay more attention to the girls extra-curricular activities, rather than the whole ‘let’s rob a bank’ scenario. You got four stories spinning inside the main one: Cleo’s whole lesbian lifestyle, Stoney’s tragic loss & love affair, T.T. and her baby, and Frankie’s job loss. BUT! When the focus shifts to the actual bank robbery and execution, then the action picks up and the fun begins.

And for these action scenes, director F. Gary Gray is well versed. He’s done The Italian Job and The Fate of the Furious, so his camerawork is impeccable. But let’s not rule out the girls here either, as the cast is wicked cool. Although Pinkett, Fox, and Elise are all great, this is Latifah’s movie. She exudes such an inner powder-keg, you never know when she’s kidding around or when she’s gonna explode. Think of her as a female Joe Pesci from Goodfellas.

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