Reviewing a movie like Kin is a tough proposition. Not because it’s overly complex or heady, mind you. Rather, it’s the type of film that’s so mild and innocuous, it leaves zero lasting imprint on your mind, body or spirit. The reels roll, you stare at the screen, and the plot – revolving around Eli, a young boy (Myles Truitt) who finds an alien ray gun and sets off on a road trip with his bad boy big brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) as the two try to evade a gang of money-starved thugs (headed by an unhinged/unbathed James Franco) – cycles through a series of wholly predictable beats. Is Kin terrible? Possibly. Does one care enough to put that much thought into it? Absolutely not.
Kin’s qualitative faults certainly aren’t due to an overall lack of resources or effort. The cast that first-time feature filmmaking duo The Baker Brothers – who are expanding their acclaimed sci-fi short Bag Man – have assembled is quite impressive. On top of Sing Street/Free Fire/Detroit alum Reynor, Dennis Quaid shows up (albeit briefly) as the boys’ grumbly, blue collar moralist father, while Zoë Kravitz (Mad Max: Fury Road) is introduced halfway through as a PG-13 stripper with a heart of gold, who somewhat curiously tags along on this adventure. All the while, Franco is giving it his everything (and then some – more on this in a minute) as Kin’s crusty big bad, Taylor, wanting nothing more than to be paid back the sizable sum Reynor’s recently released convict owes him for watching his back in prison.
No, Kin’s real problems are mostly derived from the strange shifts in tone, as scribe Daniel Casey – who is set to help pen Fast & Furious 9 next – seems to be attempting to fit a gritty crime thriller into a slice of throwback ‘80s nostalgia. One minute, we’re watching Eli test the laser blaster inside an abandoned building (its activation calling down a pair of alien warriors to retrieve the weapon), while in the next we’re hanging out inside a prime time-ready strip club, where Jimmy gawks at dancers with his adopted bro in an attempt to bond “as men do”. By the time these lame outlaws on the lam find themselves locked up in a police station, we know the Terminator Lite action sequence is up next. Casey’s screenplay seems to be mashing several genres together, while the Bakers’ admittedly keen eyes for composition – augmented by Larkin Seiple’s slippery, neon-tinged cinematography – packages it all in a glossy, retro-cinematic eggshell readymade for the Stranger Things crowd.
Speaking of outlandish, it may be time to sit James Franco down and have a chat about artistic cohesion. His redneck crime lord seems beamed in from a completely different movie, where he’s the King of PBR Mountain. Dressed in ratty Goodwill secondhand sweaters and seemingly covered in a sheen of Crisco, his entire schtick seems incongruous with the rest of Kin, as Taylor intimidates gas station cashiers by pissing on their floors and generally acts like an asshole. On one hand, it’s difficult not to wonder if the young genre directors couldn’t rein him in for their YA action romp. On the other, you’re kind of glad that they couldn’t, because at least he’s adding some semblance of color to these otherwise beige proceedings.
One of Kin’s few saving graces is the fact that the Bakers were somehow able to convince Scottish prog rock masters Mogwai to contribute a rather fine original score. Fans of the band’s loud/quiet/loud dynamic will be pleased to learn that their OST fundamentally sounds like a new Mogwai record, filled with moody pianos and rumbling drums, before guitars explode along with Eli’s newfound laser cannon. Mogwai’s sonic textures have always been romantically apocalyptic, and here they elevate scenes that would’ve otherwise fallen flat, had the post-rock legends not picked them up via their trademark deafening textures.
Despite a late in the game reveal/cameo and some okay action in the final act, Kin can never really rise above being anything more than “ho hum”, chugging along without any sort of stand out scene. Even Reynor – who has never been seen in the same place at the same time as Seth Rogen – seems to recognize that nothing about his character in particular is truly redeemable or even that engaging, as he goes through the motions of each scene, injecting just enough pathos as to not appear like he’s sleepwalking. The Bakers clearly have talent, and hint at being able to man a production of considerable scope. One just hopes that – the next time they step behind the camera – they attempt a story that’s a little less cliché, as Kin quickly exits your brain as soon as its too long 102 minutes come to a close.
Kin hits theaters this Friday, August 31st.