‘Kin’ misfires its laser gun story
Directed by: Jonathan and Josh Baker
Written by: Daniel Casey, Jonathan and Josh Baker
Starring: Myles Truitt, Jack Reynor, Zoe Kravitz, Dennis Quaid, and James Franco
“Kin” – Speaking from personal experience, many preteen boys who grew up in the late 1970’s enjoyed “Star Wars” (1977) and wished to own laser guns similar to Han Solo’s and/or Chewbacca’s. Sure, sheriffs and outlaws firing rifles during “Bonanza” reruns carried a certain admired machismo, but laser guns discharging explosive light missiles provided an indescribable allure.
With certainty, a significant subset of these anxious, excitable kids asked their fathers, “Dad, have ‘they’ invented laser guns yet?”
Again, speaking from personal experience.
In 2018 Detroit, one would be hard-pressed to find a nearby laser gun manufacturer, but Eli (Myles Truitt) – a 14-year-old who collects scrap metal and wiring for resale – miraculously stumbles onto a bizarre, futuristic rifle sitting in an abandoned factory. Wow, a kid’s dream come true. It’s a thin, metallic box about two feet long and 9 inches high, but when he slides his thumb over a lighted corner, a scope rises, a trigger appears and a gun barrel extends from this contraption.
This thingamajig could do some damage.
Eli’s family has suffered some damage as well. His mom passed away, his older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) sits in jail and his dad Hal (Dennis Quaid) weathers their personal storm with occasional curt conversation and a permanent semi-scowl. Father and son are mourning without tears.
Jimmy, however, just finished serving his six-year prison sentence and returns home, much to the displeasure of Hal, who still harbors resentment for his eldest son’s mistakes. Even though Jimmy hopes for a new start, trouble has followed him home, and soon after, Eli and he begin a rocky journey across the country.
“Kin” is a road picture. A generic and shaky one that dives into predicable spaces in repeated, painful examples of we’ve-seen-this-movie-before. During their trip, the brothers catch up over six years of lost time and bond a bit, but their haphazard jaunt – led by an ex-con’s faulty instincts – is, of course, destined to fall apart. You see, Jimmy keeps a secret from Eli, but some future, unlucky circumstance will inevitably pry it open. The script also calls for a female ally, and eureka, Milly (Zoe Kravitz) – a small-town stripper – makes a marvelous new life-choice by joining this ex-con and teenager on their adventures.
Milly lands on this decision after meeting the boys for about six minutes of screen time. Well, let’s be fair. It may have been eight minutes. Eight minutes or eight days, the three instantly gain each other’s trust, and Milly develops a maternal instinct for Eli.
Even though they speed down various highways, this thinly-constructed narrative runs in place with the exception of Eli’s aforementioned weapon. Rather than wonder if Jimmy and Eli will strengthen their rapport and/or ponder when Milly will decide to rob them blind, the film begs for more laser gun time.
Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker do feed the greedy need for exploding deeds, but the futuristic shootout-grandeur infrequently occurs. This critic didn’t tally up the exact number of laser blasts, but it didn’t feel like enough. Every once in a while, Eli will reluctantly fire at a standing object or person in between Jimmy’s declarations of hope that his little brother would refrain from trouble. Then again, who took him on the road, encouraged him to drink at a strip bar, stop in a casino, and shoot bad guys?
In addition to the gun, the other notable character is Taylor, a bad dude played furiously by James Franco. Franco has a celebrated history of selecting curious roles, and he brings a real sense of danger to the film. One hopes that Taylor might show a brief moment of levity, but this character may have reinvented the term bad to the bone, and admittedly, furnishes a legit reason for Jimmy’s desire to hit the pavement at 90 mph.
If only the police could help, but no law enforcement appears anywhere during the first two acts, while Taylor uses his bottomless freewill to commit felonious aggression. Actually, plenty of John and Jane Q. Laws arrive in the third act, and the Bakers pay homage to – arguably - the seminal action picture of the 1980’s, but despite this tribute, “Kin” regularly misfires. Most likely, kids and adults of all ages probably won’t be dreaming of finding Eli’s laser rifle anytime soon, but then again, with the amount of gun violence in today’s climate, perhaps we should all thank the filmmakers for their movie’s unintended public service.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.