What follows is an extended version of a review I originally wrote for Punch Drunk Movies. Music-obsessive that I am, I call these longer versions my 12-inch mix.
Kin is a road trip movie with a smattering of sci-fi, a race against time as its protagonists are chased by several different factions. But for me, Kin is a race against time because it’s only a matter of it before the movie’s erased completely from my memory. It’s not awful. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it. But there’s nothing really right with it, either. It’s forgettable.
Starting in the blue-collar neighborhoods of Detroit (which, sadly, still haven’t found economic footing), the story focuses on young Eli Solinski (Myles Truitt), living with his strict, but loving father, Hal (Dennis Quaid). He’s a good kid, but having suffered a great loss at home, he’s getting into fights at school and is suspended.
He spends his extra free time scouring nearby abandoned factories for scrap metal to sell at junkyards. What begins as a slice of life drama takes a different turn, though, as Eli makes an incredible/disturbing discovery on his latest excursion, coming across the remains of a firefight, except the bodies are those of futuristic looking soldiers (one whose head is blown clear off, the armor around his torso still smoldering. But there’s no blood. This movie’s strictly PG-13). Amidst the carnage, he comes across a mysterious metal box, which, when he touches it, springs to life and transforms into a powerful looking weapon, an alien ray gun with a design that’s both cool, with its luminescent accents, and ungainly, with a boxy Volvo from the ‘80s look.
Keeping his discovery a secret, Eli comes home to find his older brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor), fresh out of jail, has come to stay. Jimmy is funny and kind, doesn’t seem hardened by prison time, but Eli’s father warns him not to get too close. Jimmy’s not a bad person, but he can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Turns out he owes Taylor (James Franco), a local crime lord, a lot of money for protecting him while in prison. (Do crime lords really offer protection on an IOU basis?)
Jimmy, of course, doesn’t have the cash and Taylor’s plan to squeeze it out of him results in tragedy, putting Jimmy on the run with Eli, who’s unaware of the dangers around him, being told they’re going on a road trip to Lake Tahoe. With a murderous Taylor hot on their trail, it’s a good thing Eli has his alien weapon with him. Of course, that weapon has also drawn the attention of the enigmatic, otherworldly soldiers to whom the gun belongs, and they begin tracking the duo cross-country.
Kin opens strong with a wordless sequence that begins as a simple introduction to the dilapidated neighborhoods of the film’s first act, before ending in what appears to be a laser battle and a literal bang. It’s good stuff, moody, intriguing, and a little exciting.
The rest of the movie is none of those things.
It’s basically a family drama with a sci-fi twist. Though, twist seems a little generous, at least until the last five minutes of the movie. For most of its runtime Kin is a road trip with a zest of sci-fi. Whole chunks go by where it forgets the protagonist has a space gun and that he’s being chased by mysterious aliens.
The movie apparently also forgets that a murderous antagonist is chasing after the leads as the story plods along without urgency, focusing on the brothers’ bonding. This could be interesting if these scenes were insightful or emotional.
But the writing’s often just too lazy for that. Franco, who lets his squint do most of the acting here, has a scene where he interrupts his intimidation of another character to appreciate the bridge of a song playing on a nearby radio. Clichéd. Later, the movie’s only female character is crammed into the narrative in the sloppiest way possible. Jimmy bribes his 14-year-old brother’s way into a strip club, where they meet Milly (Zoë Kravitz), a proverbial stripper with a heart of gold, who, after knowing them for a couple of hours joins these two complete strangers on their “adventure,” only to be conveniently written out of the story for the big action finale.
And that finale? It has a pulse at least, but there is something disturbing about (spoiler alert) a kid disintegrating his foes with a gun. Granted, the movie builds up to that moment fairly. Eli doesn’t enjoy killing and only does it as a last resort, but while the audience around me erupted in applause at that moment, I was more alarmed than pumped.
The finale also reveals a twist that turns the whole movie into nothing more than a shambling prequel to a potential franchise. Again?! Does everything have to be a franchise? One gets the feeling the directors are more interested in that theoretical sequel than they are in this listless drama.
Full disclosure, the main reason I wanted to see Kin was its soundtrack, supplied by post-rock stalwarts, Mogwai. I find their alternately uplifting, eerie, hard rocking instrumentals fascinating (I’m listening to their music as I’m writing this now). Strange then, that like everything else in this movie, their soundtrack doesn’t make much of an impression, disappearing into the background, muffled, not particularly engaging. Even the pre-release tracks, which I listened to non-stop before the movie, didn’t make much of an impact when they appeared in the film. Something about this movie just provokes a big fat “meh” out of everything it touches, apparently.
August tends to be a quiet month for movies. Summer’s winding down, kids are going back to school. I hoped Kin would be an unexpected sleeper to shake up these overly hot days. Too bad it’s just literally a snooze.