Kin review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
What do two Baltimore brothers, a kind-hearted stripper, and a ray gun have in common? Not much, and that’s part of the problem with Kin. It’s a genre-mashing adventure that throws so much at the screen, from young adult wish fulfillment to 1980s throwback ingredients, that ultimately never becomes the earnest romp of a sci-fi adventure with tongue firmly in its cheek. Too somber to be campy, too ridiculous to be dramatic, it exists in that strange void of not-quite-there 1980s science fiction of grand ideas with cheap budgets. It’s a chasm I’m not quite sure I want to be so nostalgic about.
The premise itself is not too shabby if you’re seeking a more original story. Elijah (Myles Truitt) is a teenager with a somewhat tough life in Baltimore. He was adopted by Hal Solinski (Dennis Quaid), a blue-collar worker pushing for his son to pursue a life of honesty and hard work. It’s not easy to do in a broken down Baltimore where Elijah’s only means of money is snatching copper wire. It’s even tougher when Elijah’s older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) has recently been released from prison and still has some dirty deals going. One such debt he needs to repay is for prison protection and local kingpin Taylor Balik, played by James Franco with ridiculous corn rolls and tattoos, has come to collect. It isn’t long before things go south for Jimmy, leading him to take Elijah on an emergency road trip.
But, wait, isn’t this a science fiction movie? Partially. It’s more of a crime drama with some sci-fi elements tossed in as a wild card. If Elijah and Jimmy are pursued by gun-toting criminals that want them dead, let’s see what happens when a ray gun is thrown into the mix. Naturally, it blasts the criminals to ash. Neon ash, for that subtle dose of the 1980s. Where did the ray gun come from? Elijah discovers it while scouting an abandoned building and, sure enough, some dark-looking, Daft Punk style cyborgs have come looking for the taken weapon. They’re hardly in the film, always seeming to be one step behind, until showing up for some flashy special effects in the climax. Trust me, you’ll understand why they’re kept to a minimum when their underwhelming purpose is revealed.
To enjoy Kin takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief. The movie proceeds at such a contemplative and speedy pace that you just have to go with it at times. For example, Elijah seems to take quite easily to the ray gun he finds, easily able to turn it on and figure out its different firing functions within one or two sessions. How this is possible could be explained by his favorite cartoon being the 1980s cyberpunk anime, Bubblegum Crisis. But, wait, this film takes place in modern times? What kid in the 21st century is watching Bubblegum Crisis? For a clearer explanation, there’s also a twist about Elijah’s past but its such a predictable insertion of young adult wish fulfillment I almost burst out laughing at the audacity to pull such a familiar stunt. And I’ll spare you the can of worms about how Elijah is able to enter a strip club that doesn’t seem to have any topless women on the stage.
Kin has its moments. There’s an almost admirable somberness for treating the story’s darker aspects of a shattered family with honesty. The scenes with the ray gun turning people to ash and causing massive explosions are fun, especially in a chaotic police station and a strip club with neon dressing. It’s just too bad all the parts don’t exactly mesh, leaving a film that becomes rather confounding in tone, yet fascinating enough in its conception that I wanted to see it succeed. One thing I can say for sure is that it’ll easily appeal to teenage boys seeking some fantasy. What boy wouldn’t want to go on a road trip with their brother, enter into strip clubs, and fire ray guns at bad guys?