Born from the pages of a short story, bottle fed on the milk of science fiction, raised on a road trip, and nurtured in the loving bosom of family drama, the new movie Kin is a curious but frustrating conglomeration of many genres. Certainly an ambitious undertaking from filmmaking brothers Josh and Jonathan Baker, whose feature debut they adapt from a script by Daniel Casey based on their own short story called Bag Man and expand to feature length. Problem is, there simply aren’t enough interesting genre beats to make for a satisfying foray into any of the places their story goes. It tries real hard to be a lot of things, but it isn’t very good at any of them.
Things get off to a fine enough start as we peek in on a hardscrabble family and meet a young boy named Elijah (Myles Truitt ) being raised by his widower father Hal (Dennis Quaid), who believes that heavy doses of tough love will send the boy down the right path to adulthood. We learn that the two are still mourning the loss of their mother and wife, so it is even more heartbreaking when we see the young Eli meandering down a path of delinquency as he scraps and scrounges for copper and other precious metals in the decaying rubble of Detroit’s better days. The stage is set for a wonderfully realized family drama about a young boy who is forced to grow up much more quickly than he should have to.
But the film’s loving tone of home, family, and growing up, changes rather suddenly when, on one of his scrounging expeditions, Eli discovers the remnants of some sort of alien incursion. The bodies of helmeted black-clad soldiers and bits of unrecognizable futuristic-looking fragments are strewn about.
When Eli picks up one of the mysterious objects -- a black, metal, oblong case, it begins to come to life with a series of electronic whirs, flashing lights, and metal-like appendages that expand and contract to reveal the butt stock and trigger of an alien ray-gun. Uh oh, things just got interesting!
But before we learn what the gun is, what it can do, where it came from, and who may be looking for it, Eli tucks it away it in his bedroom where it remains hidden for most of the film’s runtime. So, are we no longer playing the sci-fi angle?
Meanwhile, Hal’s biological son and Eli’s older brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor) arrives back at home, freshly paroled from a 5-year prison stint. We learn that Jimmy owes 60 grand to a very bad guy named Taylor (James Franco, channeling his Spring Breakers character), who wants the money he’s owed bad enough to kill Jimmy’s entire family to get it. You can guess what happens when Jimmy learns that the construction company where his father works might have $60,000 in a safe. Aha, a crime thriller!
Never one to make very good decisions, Jimmy decides to high-tail it out of town, with little brother in tow… but not before picking up a pole dancer from a strip club (Zoe Kravitz) who decides to join them on their journey. First stop? Las Vegas, baby! Told you Jimmy was a poor decision-maker. Okay, cool! A road picture.
Forgot to mention that there’s another group following them. Some of those black-clad soldier guys want their gun back and can apparently track its location, probably via bluetooth or wi-fi. On second thought, probably not either of those as bluetooth never works and wi-fi connections always go down. Regardless, every now and then, we’re shown clips of the aliens(?) riding their motorcycles, speeding through traffic as they manage to always stay just a few steps behind Eli and company.
Visually, Kin is well-made, slick, and polished with CGI that never falters. It even manages to pay loving tribute to some of the sci-fi greats of the ‘80s, like The Terminator, and E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But we can tell that Kin wants to be so much more than that. With sequels on the brain, the Bakers clearly shoot for the moon. Nothing to be knocked about such ambitions, but their film could have been so much more had it kept its focus on being really good at one or two things rather than shooting to be something for everyone.
The potential for having something meaningful to say about much bigger issues such as race, class, family, and responsibility is occasionally touched on, but largely glossed over by Casey’s script which almost always stays at surface level and never fully leans into many of the things it occasionally hints at. In addition, the Eli character never feels like the central figure he is meant to be. He is shy, quiet, and just along for the ride. He doesn’t blossom into the full-fledged hero we expect. That’s no fault of Truitt’s. His character is just written that way.
The film tries to go out with a bang (quite literally) as the action ramps up in its third act, but even a surprise cameo is wasted in a climax that feels more like a letdown as the gun’s actual owners finally catch up to Eli and his electronic Macguffin. In addition, Franco’s trademark wackiness never quite meshes even though we’ve given in to the film’s goofy B-movie intentions.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated “PG-13” for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and drinking.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.