TL;DR: Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) is heavily flawed, but it succeeds just by being funny.
Victor Villenueva’s follow-up to the sweet Cebuano dark comedy Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead) & his first film for a mainstream studio is sadly a disappointment. It suffers from a lot of problems that for some reason plague most Filipino mainstream comedies. And yet, Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) plows through all of these problems by being flat out funny.
Its premise is way too complicated than its trailers let on. Benjie (Empoy Marquez) realizes his dream of opening a restaurant with the help of his longtime best friend Ronnie (Zanjoe Marudo). Unfortunately, no one patronizes their business & soon find themselves scrambling their way out of bankruptcy. Benjie joins the Kusina Kings challenge out of desperation, where he can fight renowned chef & restaurateur Gian Nyeam (Ryan Bang) for money & glory. However, if Benjie loses, he has to forfeit his restaurant to Gian. Even Benjie’s sister Jenny (Nathalie Hart) returns to help out but her lack of cooking skills & experience in restaurant management causes more harm than good. Meanwhile, Ronnie invests most of their money in a fraudulent pyramid scheme thinking it will help the restaurant. Benjie is furious after he found out what Ronnie did & they both get into a huge fight that ends with Ronnie walking out of the restaurant. In the middle of all of this,
On his way back to the restaurant, Ronnie catches a cockroach that stuck to him & unknowingly flings it inside the restaurant. It causes a huge commotion that leaves Benjie in a coma after a refrigerator lands on his head. Injured & hospitalized, Benjie’s soul is now stuck in limbo, and the only way for him to return to his body is to literally take care of his unfinished business & ensure that they won’t lose the Kusina Kings challenge. He can’t do it on his own – since he is a literal soul – so he enlists the help of Ronnie, even if he’s still mad at him, disapproves of his total disregard for following the recipe & loathes his attraction to Jenny. Ronnie partly does it out of guilt for causing Benjie & Jenny so much trouble & it won’t take long for them to find out what really happened.
There’s so much stuff going on in the film as it piles contrived situations to put its characters in its setup that the clumsy plotting feels like a bunch of ideas smushed together. There are some attempts at giving both Benjie & Ronnie their own arcs, but it’s shoved aside in favor of focusing on their main goal to rescue the restaurant. Its attempts at slapstick humor whenever Empoy Marquez forcibly moves Zanjoe Marudo’s body doesn’t work because both are just too stiff & awkward to pull it off. Add the fact that it sometimes succumbs to lazy joke writing by substituting pop culture references for punchlines & overexplaining jokes, & the end result is a mediocre effort from one of the most promising film directors working today.
However, there’s no reason to doubt Villenueva’s talents & instincts as a director, because once it settles down into a rhythm, the loose, ridiculous plot becomes a vessel for a barrage of inspired silliness & endearingly dumb dirty jokes. It’s a live-action cartoon full of absurd gags & daffy wordplay, tossing it to the audience as fast as it could while often badly explaining what the joke was. The dirty jokes are achingly sincere & childish in nature, it’s easier to embrace them even if some of these are more likely to induce an eyeroll rather than a laugh. Everyone in the cast carries the material they’re working with & clearly having a blast, which translates to the film’s warm, lighthearted vibe. It’s definitely a flawed film, but comedies are supposed to make you laugh & this one definitely did the trick. Sometimes that’s enough.