This debut feature from the team of Jonathan and Josh Baker (they directed, and Daniel Casey’s screenplay is expanded from their short film “Bag Man”) is a little like the old saw about the weather. If you don’t care for the kind of movie it is, just wait a bit and it will turn into something else.
So if you don’t care for dysfunctional family drama, don’t worry—it soon morphs into a gangster action picture, and in turn an overwrought revenge tale. And if that doesn’t suit you, it will be a road movie about two brothers bonding, with a strong “coming-of-age” component. Finally it transforms into the full-fledged science fiction flick it has hinted at being from the start. A genre mash-up that leaves you dazed by the close (though not with delight), “Kin” is the latest failed attempt to generate under-the-radar success, the way James Cameron did with the original “Terminator”—the young hero even prominently plays a “Terminator 2” arcade game during his travels. (For another recent try along those lines, see “Upgrade.”) And from the big finale, it’s clear that visions of sequels are already dancing in the Baker brothers’ heads, especially since its big-star executive producer shows up briefly in a role that would easily become central in the next installment.
It all begins when young Eli (Myles Truitt, in a strong, soulful debut), recently suspended from school for fighting, stumbles on a gruesome scene in one of the crumbling Detroit buildings from which he’s collecting scrap metal for sale: a passel of corpses dressed in futuristic military garb. Weirdly, he doesn’t seem distressed by the carnage; all he’s interested in is a keyboard-like weapon that lights up at his touch, a muzzle protruding from the case. He takes it home and puts it under his bed as his adoptive father, widower Hal Solinski (Dennis Quaid), a crusty, principled construction foreman, fumes over his son’s fistfights and thievery—all a sign of his love for the boy, of course.
That familial conflict coincides with the return of Hal’s older son, prodigal Jimmy (Jack Reynor) after a six-year stint in prison. Jimmy seems a decent if chatty sort, but he comes with baggage: he owes $60,000 to a crime family led by gonzo Taylor (James Franco, doing his finest lip-smacking, bug-eyed routine) and his brother Dutch (Gavin Fox)—apparently for the protection they gave him behind bars. The only way he can think of repaying them is with the cash in the safe of Hal’s office, and when the old man understandably rejects the idea, he takes Taylor and Dutch there to steal it.
Unfortunately Hal shows up during the robbery, and is shot dead by Taylor as he tries to prevent it; Dutch is also fatally wounded in the hail of gunfire. While all this is happening, Eli is out in the truck (dad intends him to return all that metal he stole), listening with ear buds that prevent him from hearing the shots. Jimmy comes running out, explains that Hal has to stay behind to deal with a job thing, and jumps in; he then suggests an abrupt road trip to Lake Tahoe, their late mother’s favorite place—something he can afford since he’s thoughtfully grabbed the bag containing the $60,000 while making his escape. Off go Jimmy and Eli on their bonding exercise.
Of course Taylor is unwilling to let the matter drop. After a hilarious sequence in which he conducts a water-free version of a Viking funeral for Dutch, during which he delivers a monologue about a Song Walkman that one hopes is intended as a parody, he summons his small army of henchmen to trash the Solinski household (they just miss the boys’ departure, of course) and take up pursuit of the brothers by tracking their cell phones.
Meanwhile our heroic duo find their way to a seedy “men’s club” in Nebraska, where they make pals with pretty exotic dancer Milly (Zoë Kravitz) before getting into a fight with the place’s sleazy owner (Romano Orzari)—and later robbing him at a poker game to retrieve their money—incidents during which Eli finally exhibits his dexterity in blowing away things with his ritzy ray gun. The brothers—now accompanied by Milly—then make their way to Nevada, where they are arrested, apparently in connection with Hal’s death (the revelation of which causes a rift between the siblings). Taylor and his band track them down to the small-town jail where they’re being held, with malevolent intent.
But Taylor isn’t the only one to show up there. Periodically we see a couple of futuristic soldiers tracking Jimmy and Eli too, following them on stolen motorcycles by detecting every firing of Eli’s gun. Happily they show up just as a bevy of cops do as well, and they reveal to Eli what makes him so special—while seeing to it that Taylor won’t bother him and Jimmy anymore.
As should be evident from all this, “Kin” throws pretty much everything but the kitchen sink into its plot, but it must be said that Casey, the Bakers, and editor Mark Day manage to keep the goings-on reasonably clear, although they can’t make them even remotely plausible. Larkin Seiple provides good widescreen cinematography and Mogwai a score that complements the action, which is generally well choreographed by the stunt team. The visual effects are also nicely done, given what must have been a relatively modest budget, and are not allowed to overwhelm the live-action material.
As for the cast, Truitt proves a talented newcomer, and though Reynor’s goofiness can occasionally get irritating, he mostly holds his own. For much of the first act Quaid grounds things with his usual sullen intensity, and Kravitz lends some welcome likability to the mid-section of the script. As for Franco, he goes the wacko route, which is amusing in itself but rather throws the rest of the movie off kilter.
“Kin”—a title that takes on multiple meanings as Eli’s family connections are finally revealed—will probably serve as a promising calling card for the Baker brothers, but by attempting to cover so many genre bases in a single outing, it eventually stumbles due to an overabundance of half-baked ideas and the lack of a decisive resolution.