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A teenager goes on the lam with an alien ray gun, which isn’t as interesting as it sounds.

Don’t be fooled by the plot description, or by the posters with a futuristic ray gun. Kin, directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker, is a serious, somber story about a 14-year-old kid torn between his father’s moral lessons and his brother’s criminal lifestyle… which just happens to have a futuristic ray gun in it.

It’s an interesting idea, taking some of the tropes of sci-fi superhero storytelling and using them to amplify an otherwise familiar, gritty coming of age and crime drama. But to get away with it, filmmakers need to have an uncanny sense of balance. The drama can’t be so dour that the ray guns feel out of place, and the science-fiction can’t be so out of this world that the characters can’t stay grounded.

Kin starts off strong, with a fine cast pointed in the right direction. Myles Truitt (Queen Sugar) plays Eli, a troubled 14-year-old whose stern adopted father, Hal (Dennis Quaid), tries to set on the right, moral path. But times are hard. Money is scarce, Eli’s adopted mother has died, and his older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) has just got out of prison.

It is in this difficult, trying time that Eli finds a gun. He takes it home and preens with it in front of the mirror, thinking that it makes him look cool. He doesn’t tell his family about it. And that’s going to be a problem, not just because he’s a kid with a lethal weapon in a family situation full of strife and criminality (which would normally be dramatic enough), but because the gun is a futuristic weapon of mass destruction, and two mysterious enforcers are trying to get it back.

But the plot doesn’t really kick in until Jimmy, who owes $60,000 to a violent lowlife named Taylor (James Franco), gets in over his head. The two brothers end up on a cross-country road trip, bonding at strip clubs and stealing from card games. Theoretically they’re being chased by aliens and a gang leader, but they don’t run into each other again for quite a while. It even takes a heck of a long time for Eli to even mention to anyone that he has a laser blaster in his backpack, which you’d think would be kind of a big deal.

That right there is the problem with Kin. The cast is sound, the idea is interesting, and individual scenes are directed with undeniable skill. But the movie is so skewed in the direction of serious, indie family drama that the sci-fi and action elements get hardly any screen time. When Eli finally uses his BFG-9000 it can’t help but seem utterly ridiculous, because it was irrelevant to the story for such a long, long time.

Indeed, with only a few small tweaks to the ending, Kin would have been pretty much the same movie if Eli found a bazooka instead of a laser rifle. The sci-fi aspects aren’t being utilized to tell the story, or to craft an entertaining parable about the characters’ otherwise believable struggles. All the genre elements play like an afterthought, and that’s frustrating because the rest of the movie isn’t quite spry enough to stay interesting without action, adventure, or at least little more weirdness.

Myles Truitt and Jack Reynor are great together, with Reynor taking center stage for much of the film as the irresponsible brother who learns, possibly too late, the importance of moral and familial responsibility. He’s such a big personality that Truitt could have been overshadowed altogether, but the actor knows how to turn a quiet personality into a tangible, captivating on-screen presence. They make a tricky script work. Almost.

But without an even ratio of sci-fi wonderment and plausible drama, Kin gets boring quickly. The middle of the film disregards all the  wonderment of the plot, in favor of familiar and frankly uninspired scenes of fraternal bonding. When the action does kick in the damage has already been done. Rather than space out the fantastical parts, the movie dumps almost all of them into the finale, which gets so overloaded with exposition that it’s unintentionally silly.

The Verdict

Kin could have been worse, but it’s not satisfying. The strong performances and confident direction make individual scenes very effective but the overall pacing drags because they filmmakers can’t seem to tell their sci-fi thriller and their family drama at the same time. So we get a sci-fi movie that plays almost entirely like a modest but formulaic indie coming of age film, with all the fun-and-games thrown together at the last minute, to almost comical effect.


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