Hell's Kitchen

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette & Mekhi Phifer
CDA Entertainment
Certificate: 15
Available now

When three friends organise a robbery, their plans go tragically awry, culminating in Gloria's younger brother being shot and killed. She blames Johnny, who is imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. When Johnny is paroled, he returns to Hell's Kitchen - the streets of New York, trying to make a new life for himself. He teams-up with an ex-boxing champ, who agrees to train him, but a corrupt promoter takes him on. However, Johnny has the added problem that Gloria is gunning for him. Gloria has her own problems though. Her lover Patty, the person actually responsible for her brother's death, is immersed in a world of drugs and violence and has drawn Gloria's mother in, too...

Although Hell's Kitchen is one story, it actually consists of three segments which are very different in style, and incorporate three plot strands. The first depicts the robbery and what happens when it goes wrong. This is extremely hard going; as a reviewer I felt forcibly obligated to persevere. The characters' mothers get almost constant mention, if you get my drift. I'm not averse to swearing being used anywhere in fiction within its context, but there's so much effing and blinding in the film that without it the dialogue would be only half its length. Extreme violence, continual conflict, everyone and his uncle on drugs... Is New York really like this? And if so, do people really want to watch a fictional film which, certainly early on, appears to glorify it?

The second section follows Johnny's return to the streets, and Gloria's agonising relationship with her mother and Patty. Johnny is cleaner than clean. After boxing regularly in prison, he now seeks professional fights. Gloria turns up intending to kill him. Her mother and Patty have struck up a drug-induced violent sexual relationship, and she learns belatedly that Patty harbours a guilty secret. This occupies the majority of the running time. It's the getting to the point when everything is out in the open and three old friend's lives are at a turning point. Ironically, the boxing bout scenes are almost incidental to the plot, and yet they are easily the most impressive. It makes me wonder if it might have been better to centre on the boxing, and have Johnny's past threaten his shot at the title.

The final section comes in a series of vignetted epilogues. Each scene slowly fades out, making you believe the film is about to end, only to be followed by another, and yet another. Johnny, without really trying that hard, has turned everyone's life around. He has paired-up with Gloria, who is pregnant with their child. Gloria's mother is in rehab, and patching things up with her daughter. Patty is visited in a psychiatric hospital by Johnny, who wants to rekindle their friendship - as unlikely as this might sound, after being imprisoned for the man's crime and then almost being shot by him. But it seems Patty has an excuse for his misdemeanours: he was beaten as a child. Oh, Please!

I can see what Hell's Kitchen is trying to achieve: to overcome and climb from the ghetto of their youth. To build futures for themselves. I suppose, in that respect it succeeds. But don't expect too much from this offering, because you won't get it.

Ty Power