Kin may secretly be the most infuriating movie of the Summer.
It starts out innocuous enough: a stereotypical depiction of Detroit, in which everyone we see is either struggling financially or making ends meet through crime. Eli Solinski (Myles Truitt) is suspended from school after a fight and spends his days doing chores for his adopted father (Dennis Quaid). His brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) is en route, just out of prison.
Jimmy is the root of all of the family’s problems, it seems. He owes money to the people that offered him protection in prison. When Taylor (James Franco) catches wind that Jimmy may not have the $60 thousand required, he immediately sets out to kill Jimmy and his family.
Oh yeah, and Eli finds an alien space gun.
Kin ineptly straddles the line between an emotional coming of age story and a gritty sci-fi action flick. Its PG-13 rating calls for a younger, more family friendly crowd. Yet the film is anything but family friendly. Although we follow the story through the eyes of a child learning to understand and grow through his dysfunctional family, the film concerns itself predominantly with bitter violence and ugly adult themes.
The prime example of this lack of tonal understanding on the parts of directors Jonathan and Josh Baker and screenwriter Daniel Casey is the lengthy strip club sequence. Jimmy takes Eli there during their roadtrip across the country, which Eli does not know is really an excursion meant to evade Taylor and his goons.
It is meant as a bonding experience, and for the first five minutes or so it seems as if the script is selling us that intent in earnest. Of course, the scene devolves into needless violence, but not before Zoe Kravitz’ body is on full male gaze display in the most scandalous striptease allowed under a PG-13 banner.
It’s a grotesque sequence, and it is rendered all the more pitiful through the fact that it is entirely unnecessary for the film’s plot. Kravtiz’ character, the stripper with a heart of gold Millie, is the only thing that comes out of it, and her character is given less purpose than the truck they drive in. It feels almost as if the men who made this movie realized too late that they did not have a female character in their script.
This flaw aside—Kravitz will later disappear from the film only to reappear in the most confounding denouement of the year—the conflict in this strip club sequence is entirely self contained. At first, it appears as if the sequence is required for the characters to lose something of importance that will affect the rest of their trip. However, this problem is solved with another ill-advised scene that makes one question what the moral values of this film truly are.
It sounds as if I am harping on this act, but it really is the best illustration of why Kin is such a failed attempt. Not only does the sequence illustrate the lack of any core values from which a true bildungsroman can bloom, but it shows that the creative team cared more for the grotesqueness of their gritty world than the actual story they were telling.
Allow me to explain, hopefully without spoiling the ending of this film (god forbid I ruin your viewing experience). Remember that gun? You know, the alien space gun upon which the marketing of this film hinges? Yeah, that one. It doesn’t have a lot of bearing on the main plot of the film, aside from being a plot device that a normal man-made gun could easily stand in for.
That is, until it is the most important thing in this diegetic world. On the outskirts of the story, two masked figures follow behind Eli in search of the gun. They do nothing of import until the tail-end of the climax. And the sequel-baiting cameo that ensues when they do enter the action is a confounding, frustrating experience.
My point is simply this. An entire act of this film is dedicated to a strip club and the man who runs it. It is not an important strip club, nor an important character. It is also an unseemly choice of locale for a story about a kid learning to trust and love his brother. More importantly, though, this 20 minute stretch could have been used to elaborate on just what the hell is happening with the two shadowy figures. Because it is not fulfilling to end a movie on a mystery like that.
It is clear that, structurally, Kin is a disaster. It is a travelogue that wants to also have a concrete, linear plot. It is populated by degenerate, conventional characters with no personality. And it lacks the basic understanding that a film ought to have characters with a clear set of values that remain constant until a narratively-motivated change occurs.
What it does have going for it is fairly decent acting. Truitt makes his big-screen debut here, and, aside from a couple of scenes where he doesn’t evenly handle the emotional weight required of him, he does a good job. Reynor also does an admirable job trying to make the character on the page into one that is actually likeable. Franco is playing that grody version of a James Franco character, which has its moments. Unfortunately there is little to say of Kravitz, as Millie is written as a prop and not a character.
Some critics refer to films that are forgettable blips on the cinema landscape as ones that “don’t exist.” Kin doesn’t exist, and if it tricks you into thinking it does it is liable to frustrate you. However, if you are tricked into thinking it exists and decide you like it—to each one’s own—I wouldn’t go holding your breath over the sequel.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)