Kin. Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker. Starring Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid, Jack Reynor, Zoe Kravitz and James Franco. Rating: 5 (out of 10)
Despite the calibre of some of the performances, and however fresh and novel some of the cinematography and pacing, it’s difficult to recommend Kin because of its central premise: that a kid who’s an outcast at school and at home finds power and validation from a weapon.
True, the gun premise is couched in more positive messages about the importance of family bonds above all else (the film is titled Kin, after all) and how “a good man does the right thing, even when it’s not the easy thing.” But given the mass-shootings crisis south of the border, the central conceit remains a problem in a film targeted at younger viewers.
Fourteen-year-old Eli (Myles Truitt) was adopted into a white, working-class family in Detroit and is mourning the loss of his adoptive mother while trying to live by the strict rules imposed by his father Hal (Dennis Quaid). Big brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor, from 2016’s Sing Street) is released from a stint in prison and eager to reconnect with the adopted brother he barely knows. Eli spends his spare time scavenging for scrap metal in Detroit’s abandoned buildings, an apocalyptic landscape. He gets more than he bargains for when he stumbles on the inert bodies of two alien soldiers and a futuristic weapon, which he promptly steals and hides under his bed.
The weapon – a blocky, hologrammed beast which responds only to his touch – comes in handy when a gangster named Taylor (James Franco, suitably oily) comes to collect a sizable debt from Jimmy soon after his release. After an attempt to rid themselves of Taylor comes tragically wrong, the brothers hit the road with the bad guys giving chase. Also on their tail are the alien guys, known as Cleaners, in search of their purloined weapon: this leads to some spectacular motorcycle chases, among the stunt highlights.
The weapon only responds to Eli’s touch. Perhaps this is the future of weaponry: a firearm that distinguishes the intelligence and intent of the person using it.
The duo becomes a trio when they pick up Milly (Zoe Kravitz), an exotic dancer who sees a way out and who takes a maternal interest in Eli. (Kravitz is very good in a role seemingly designed only to add estrogen and to spice up the protracted chase.)
It’s never a good thing when the audience is better informed than the characters, and Jimmy withholds a key piece of information from his younger brother for a chunk of the movie, whittling away at our sympathy for him. Quaid is effective in his few scenes as the newly single dad, taciturn taskmaster and softie all in one. Newcomer Myles Truitt has a quiet confidence that draws the audience to his character.
Directing duo brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker based this coming-of-age sci-fi revenge thriller mashup on their short film, The Bag Man, with a screenplay by Daniel Casey. Their film attracted the attention of actor Michael B. Jordan, who signed on as an executive producer. Also on board are producers from Stranger Things and Arrival, so the science-fiction know-how is legit.
The film is being released on IMAX screens, best to enjoy some of the innovative sound design and a cool score by Scottish band Mogwai. Fresh visuals and lensing by Larkin Seiple (who contributed to the trippy Swiss Army Man) make Kin a treat to watch, particularly in the refreshingly understated first half, before the film dissolves into genre clichés and franchise-bait in the final few acts.
Are weapons in the hands of children OK when the guns arrive from outer space? It’s too easy to vilify the film based on its gun-toting premise alone – to toe that line, you’d need to clear most of the video games from your teen’s shelf – but because the film carries a PG-13 rating it’s worth having a conversation with your child about fiction and film versus reality and real-world consequences.