Cool fi­nale of Kin can’t save it from clichés

The Niagara Falls Review - - Arts & Life - JANE HORWITZ

“Kin” opens with starkly beau­ti­ful images of aban­doned, crum­bling Detroit fac­to­ries. These images seem to prom­ise a blend of vis­ual artistry and dra­matic ten­sion that could be­come a truly sat­is­fy­ing thriller.

That hope lives on for a while af­ter we meet smart, sad-eyed Eli (ex­cel­lent new­comer Myles Truitt), a 14-year-old who scav­enges in those build­ings for junk to sell. He hears strange noises in one and hap­pens upon the re­mains of a mys­te­ri­ous bat­tle, com­plete with ro­botic suits of ar­mour, which faintly echo medieval joust­ing gear, and a boxy metal­lic weapon that beeps and buzzes and ap­pears to pos­sess big, de­struc­tive power. Eli, who seems to have an in­stinct for op­er­at­ing it, even­tu­ally throws the über gun in a sack and heads home.

All this bodes well at first. The film­mak­ers are ap­par­ently riff­ing on the leg­end of King Arthur, of the boy who would rule ex­tract­ing the sword Ex­cal­ibur from the stone. But the en­tire mid­dle sec­tion of “Kin” turns that golden in­tro­duc­tory idea into dross. Nor does the cool fi­nale make up for the art­less­ness of all that hap­pens in be­tween.

Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Larkin Seiple’s fine cam­era work and Eli’s

mys­tery weapon just don’t keep the thunk­ing, de­riv­a­tive script afloat. Screen­writer Daniel Casey adapted and ex­panded “Kin” from a 2014 short film, “Bag Man,” by sib­lings Jonathan and Josh Baker. The broth­ers, who come from the world of ad­ver­tis­ing, make their co-di­rect­ing de­but with “Kin.” But some­how they haven’t ex­panded their source ma­te­rial to fill the space.

Eli is moth­er­less and hav­ing is­sues at school. His adop­tive dad (Den­nis Quaid) is a gruff, bluecol­lar guy who sees his son’s fac­tory-scav­eng­ing as theft and wor­ries that Eli could be at a dan­ger point in his young life. But Hal can only bark stern ad­vice, and from there, the film falls into one kitchen-sink drama trope af­ter an­other.

When Eli’s older brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor of TV’s “Strange An­gel”), comes home from a stint in prison, the clichés rain down even harder in di­a­logue and sit­u­a­tions. Jimmy, who is Hal’s bi­o­log­i­cal son with his late wife, needs $60,000 to pay off a lo­cal gang­ster (James Franco, armed, tat­tooed and chew­ing on the scenery).

When an at­tempt to get the money goes south, Jimmy grabs Eli and takes him on an im­promptu road trip to Ne­vada, with stops at strip clubs — tame, PG-13-ish strip clubs — and more il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity. A vi­o­lent scuf­fle with a club owner (Ro­mano Orzari) and his bounc­ers trig­gers the need for Eli to use the weapon, but also alerts Jimmy’s pur­suers and the mys­te­ri­ous, per­haps alien, own­ers of Eli’s gun.

The chase is on. The broth­ers ac­quire a fel­low trav­eller, Milly (Zoë Kravitz), a club dancer with a heart of gold in a role that feels ut­terly tacked-on. The cli­mac­tic shootout, even with the CGI fire­works from Eli’s su­per­weapon, feels like ev­ery other cops-and-creeps bat­tle ever made.

Al­though “Kin” doesn’t cut it, some of its ideas are wor­thy of fur­ther de­vel­op­ment. The film ends with a hint at a po­ten­tial se­quel, so here’s hop­ing the Bak­ers can hone their nar­ra­tive chops and ex­pand their young hero’s jour­ney to greater ef­fect — if they get a chance.


Jack Reynor as Jimmy, left, and Myles Truitt as Eli, are on the run with an alien gun in "Kin."

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