2019, R, 103 min. Directed by Andrea Berloff. Starring Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, Domhnall Gleeson, Tiffany Haddish, Annabella Sciorra, Common, James Badge Dale.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Aug. 16, 2019
As a writer, first-time director Andrea Berloff has a track record for solid, if unremarkable, adaptations (Blood Father, Sleepless) and gritty true-life tales (World Trade Center, Straight Outta Compton). Her take on the comic is, unfortunately, just clunky. The women build their new mob in moments (the storytelling equivalent of the old “Step One: ???, Step Two: Profit” meme), with so many logical gaps and missed steps that it never makes narrative or character sense. There’s neither the precise how-to of Casino nor the super-kinetic speedball charisma of Goodfellas, and that’s before a third act gear change that is supposed to ram home the female empowerment message. However, she misses what made those earlier mob movies work: You are intrigued by the gangsters, maybe even like them a bit, but you don’t feel bad when they get their comeuppance. The trio’s development into neighborhood heroes never comes with the critique it needs. Hint: A protection racket run by women is still a protection racket.
McCarthy and Haddish never seem to find that balance, leading to erratic performances that serve the moment rather than the scene. (There is one particularly ridiculous change of heart in the third act that basically derails any semblance of sympathy for the only consistently likable character.) Only Moss avoids this by playing so broad and cartoonish that she and Gleeson – sleepwalking through the role of itinerant psychopath Gabriel – seem to have escaped from a dark crime satire. At least they made a choice and stuck with it.