KIN and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Jonathan Baker and Josh Baker
Oh goody! Another film I literally knew nothing about before I went to go see it! It doesn’t necessarily bode well that I had never even seen a poster for it, let alone a trailer, before heading to the theater to see it, but I like being surprised by something that I have no expectations for going in. It doesn’t ALWAYS work out as the recent Alpha and A.X.L have proven, but a kid with a space gun sounds like a great place to start; especially if this is gonna be anything like Laser Blast from 1978! Admittedly there’s not much chance that a movie like THAT would be made nowadays (especially starring a kid) or given a wide release, but I can dream, right!? Does this manage to be an excellent gem that no one bothered to give the time of day, or was this ultimately buried in late August for a darn good reason? Let’s find out!!
Elijah Solinski (Myles Truitt) is your average fourteen year old boy stuck in a crappy situation. His mom’s dead, his brother’s in jail, and he lives in Detroit with no Robocop in sight to make things better. Well at least one of those things is about to change (no, not Robocop) as his brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) has been released from prison and is gonna stay with him and their dad (Dennis Quaid) until he can find a stable job and get his life back on track. This is proving to be a very difficult thing however as he apparently owes sixty thousand dollars to a local gangster (James Franco) for protecting him while in jail and he wants the money back NOW. He doesn’t wait until Jimmy can get a decent job to garnish his salary, he doesn’t even have some dangerous job for him to do as a way of paying down the debt. He expects Jimmy to pull 60K out of his behind right away, which I guess makes James Franco “quirky” instead of “very bad at his job”. Despite how foolish his business model is, Jimmy DOES actually pull through for the guy as the two of them along with Franco’s brother (no, not Dave) rob the safe at his father’s construction site. As fate would have it though, dear old dad walks in on the crime and gets killed by Franco which means that Jimmy in turn kills his brother and runs to find Elijah alone in the car. Thinking fast, Jimmy spins a tale about a road trip where their dad will meet them later and the two of them rush off with whatever money Jimmy could scrounge up and not much more than the clothes on their backs. Needless to say that Franco is a bit peeved about the whole “you murdered my brother” thing, and so he follows in hot pursuit looking for Jimmy and the one thing left in his life that he cares about. Oh! I almost forgot! Apparently Elijah found a space rife or something and is carrying it around in secret while aliens in Space Marine armor are trying to find it. For some reason the SPACE GUN managed to get kind of lost in the shuffle here. ANYWAY, will Jimmy and Elijah be able to start a new life together and escape the wrath of James Franco? How long can Jimmy keep up this ruse and what’s his plan once they DO find a place to settle down? Seriously, HOW DO YOU MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT A SPACE GUN THAT’S ABOUT ALMOST EVERYTHING ELSE EXCEPT THE SPACE GUN!?
I don’t think this is a BAD movie, but its ideas and themes are much better than the execution itself. I liked almost everything this film was doing, from the setup, to the acting, to the overall themes about family (it’s not called “KIN” for nothing), but the overall experience needed… something. A tighter edit would have helped as shaving a few scenes here and there would have helped it from feeling too monotonous, or maybe some better antagonists to chase them as James Franco feels out of place with his over the top performance and the owners of the gun chasing them barely show up at all. The brilliance of this movie is in how it subverts your expectations as it sells itself as a sci-fi adventure but manages to be more like a heartfelt indie drama which is a combination that can certain work, but maybe it could have leaned a LITTLE less on the former and a LITTLE more on the latter just to keep things moving? There doesn’t have to be spaceship battles or lightsaber duels, but there doesn’t NOT have to be those!
The part that you’re gonna remember the most from this movie is not the space gun or the action scenes, but the utterly broken relationship between Elijah and Jimmy. I actually liked Jimmy a lot in this; not because he was a good person, but he was a believable screw up. The movie does a decent enough job of snowballing things one after the other against him, and when it comes time to make the right decision he ultimately balks but for understandable reasons. Why didn’t Jimmy go to the cops right away? Well, how much were they going to help? If he went to the cops after the shootout, they would have thrown HIM in jail and probably couldn’t do anything to pin it on (). What evidence were there be? Potentially some finger prints, but Jimmy’s finger prints were all over there too, so why would they make an effort when they already have someone they can blame it on? They might do something if Elijah gets murdered, but Jimmy’s trying to AVOID that outcome and it won’t do him much to be proven right AFTER the fact. Now sure, this isn’t the ONLY possible outcome, but with such a no win situation I can see why he chose to run away and maybe start a new life rather than give up and spend the rest of his life in jail. Again though, this is entirely selfish as Jimmy is in no way an actual parent to Elijah and makes some obviously bad choices along the journey, but that tension between Jimmy’s desire to do right by Elijah while also being unable to put the big picture before himself is where most of this movie’s strength comes from. By the end of the movie, Jimmy’s actions could have gotten Elijah murdered several times for pretty selfish reasons, but that bond between them feels legitimate despite all of that which isn’t an easy thing to pull off. Elijah himself sadly doesn’t have as much going for him as everything around him is much more interesting like his brother and the giant gun, but the actor does a solid job with the material he’s given. He actually worked best when he was acting off of his dad as the latter was basically forcing him to confront whatever it was that was bothering him instead of Jimmy’s approach of just forgetting about it until it smacks you in the face, and it makes me wish that he hadn’t left the movie so early. The gun itself is honestly the most superfluous element in this as we get some moments of Elijah playing with it which aren’t bad scenes as they do a good job of illustrating his feelings of inadequacy and helplessness which the gun gives him a false sense of whenever he holds it, but it really could have been anything as there’s no real lore or science attached to it. It’s a MacGuffin to put on the poster which will surely get SOME people to see the movie, but otherwise it doesn’t serve much purpose.
The biggest problem is that the movie itself feels like a letdown compared to the themes it was building up. Jimmy and Elijah have a lot of great moments in this, both when Jimmy is being an irresponsible ass hat and when he’s trying to do the best he can, but watching it all play out can be a bit tedious. There’s a scene at a strip club that goes on WAY too long and by the time Zoë Kravitz joins the team the movie feels like it hits a narrative dead end. That’s probably the best way to sum it up. Instead of feeling like one continuous arc to a clear goal, it feels like a bunch of tangents and setbacks that we need to work through in order to get back on track which can feel a bit exhausting; especially when the track we’re trying to get back ON feels so nebulous and unclear. I mean sure, the journey is more important than the destination, but I still feel like we need to have SOME amount of tension! A movie similar to this would be Logan which does a very good job of setting up the goals and why they’re important while also making the journey itself meaningful and the primary focus of the movie. This film isn’t helped by also having a much less compelling villain as James Franco is hamming it up to eleven here and feels like he’s from a different movie entirely. Since he’s the central threat as well and you can hardly believe what the hell he’s doing (or how he managed to sucker a bunch of people into following him), it only further diminishes the urgency of the journey which makes the whole thing feel kind of empty despite such a great conceit to work with.
Now there’s also the ending which we should probably discuss, and I’ll try not to spoil it here. Now I haven’t seen anyone’s reaction to it yet, but it really feels like the kind of thing that many will say utterly derails the film because it’s something that comes up at the very last minute, changes the tone of the movie entirely, and is shamelessly there to sequel bait for a different movie down the road. To me though, it was honestly pretty awesome and I enjoyed that they decided to go out with such a bang instead of letting it drift off on a more somber note which is where it looked like things were headed. Now yes, it’s completely unbelievable on so many levels and almost turns what was an interesting character piece into an outright farce, but if you’re willing to go with it on what it’s trying to do instead of getting hung up on how completely and utterly we’ve shifted gears here (not something that everyone can do which is fine), then I think it’s really entertaining and honestly what I WANTED out of this movie from hearing the premise before I realized it was going to give me something else entirely. That something else is GOOD and I’m glad to be surprised by a movie actually doing more than I was expecting rather than being so much worse… but I still kind of wanted what I thought I was gonna get and this gave me enough of that to keep me from grumbling about the lack of… that, in a movie that sold itself as such.
I don’t think this is an excellent film and I’m kind of torn whether or not it’s worth seeing in the theaters, but it’s definitely worth seeing at SOME point as the places where it shine are excellent even if the rest of the movie can’t quite keep up with it. That still doesn’t quite explain why it got buried as hard as it was which will no doubt ensure it being a commercial failure, but maybe it’ll find an audience when it gets a home release or if the directors move onto something bigger. It’s probably not something I’ll remember past this year as there are so many movies out there, both good and bad, but for now it’s a decent enough ride that can surprise you every once in a while even if the overall package isn’t TOO far off from what you’d probably expect; assuming you were expecting anything. Seriously, the marketing for this thing is harder to find than an ACTUALLY space gun.