The new film KIN wants to be many things: a sci-fi fantasy, a road trip comedy, a coming-of-age story, and a brutal actioner. At times, it succeeds in individually essaying all of them, but taken as a whole, the film is quite a mess. One minute it wants its audience to mourn the violent murder of a main character, and a few minutes later, laugh at how another one ineptly lies to cover up that death. The movie wants us to flinch at gang brutality, but cheer when a 14-year-old incinerates criminals with his interstellar firearm. It veers from one genre to the next, failing to find a consistent tone throughout. Painting too many colors together always achieves mud. The same goes for filmmaking.
It’s a shame really because much of KIN is done with a sure hand. There’s a taut feeling of dread built up in the first half hour as the dynamics are established between the main characters. Blue collar dad Hal Solinsky (Dennis Quaid) has his hands full with his adopted African-American teen Eli (Myles Truitt). Eli gets into fights at school with his harassers, and he sneaks off at odd hours to collect scrap from an abandoned building to earn walking-around money. Their relationship is so strained that the child doesn’t even share the news of the alien massacre he’s discovered in the old warehouse, let alone the space man’s weapon he lifted from the carnage.
Things get worse in the house when Hal’s adult son Jimmy (Jack Reynor) returns home from a lengthy stint in prison. Before he even finishes his first home-cooked meal in over five years, the ex-con is rushing off to meet with gang leader Taylor Balik (James Franco). He owes the heavily tatted thug 60K and is coerced into robbing his old man’s work safe to settle the debt. Of course, Hal walks in on the in-progress robbery and is shot dead for his snooping. In the fracas, Jimmy takes out Balik’s brother and wounds a few of his other men and becomes a fugitive all over again.
That first act suggests that KIN is going to be a crackling crime thriller with sci-fi overtones, but the movie quickly veers off the rails, never to fully recover. Jimmy grabs Eli, and they hit the road on the run from Balik and his gang. The older brother lies to his step-sibling, telling him they’re going to Tahoe to meet up with dad for a family vacation, and the youngster buys it all too quickly. Soon after, Jimmy is glibly serving as Eli’s tour guide through the teen’s rites of passage. They yak it up in a diner, bond overnight at a cheap motel, urinate on the side of the road together, and stop to get their jollies at a strip club.
It’s been less than 2 days since Jimmy saw his dad gunned down, and he took a life himself, but it seems all that washed off his back with the morning shower. Jimmy may look like a pretty-boy hood, almost too angelic with his baby blues, but he must have hardened something fierce in jail. What other reason could there possibly be for him to tow a 14-year-old into a sleazy strip club and pay stripper Milly (Zoe Kravitz) gobs of money to flirt with both of them? That scene’s tin-eared tone belies all the seriousness that has gone before it and plays as little more than a crass attempt to elicit laughs or to sex up the plot for an older audience.
Soon, the boys’ shenanigans become almost unwatchable. Not only does Eli stop the brawl Jimmy’s started in the club by hauling out his space gun and blasting away, but soon they’re off to the races with Milly as they stop to rob an underground poker game with the weapon. These hijinks are played for laughs, and the utter inappropriateness of Eli wielding such a firearm turns this into unintentional farce. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with an intergalactic laser cannon.
Filmmaker twins Jonathan Baker and Josh Baker elicit excellent performances from Truitt and Kravitz, and she wisely underplays her “hooker with a heart of gold” cliché, but Quaid and Franco are both allowed to chew the scenery. The brothers certainly know how to create nifty special effects with the two aliens tracking Eli on hyper-speed motorcycles while using a heat-imaging alien GPS do-dad. Unfortunately, the Baker’s story takes a Baker’s dozen of ideas from a lot of obvious source material with very mixed results. There are nods to STRANGER THINGS, THE TERMINATOR, STARMAN, and MIDNIGHT RUN, not to mention a slew of other road movies in the telling, but the story never finds a singular tone to stick with.
Studios long for quadrant films – productions that appeal to men and women, aged over and under 25 – but this movie tries to appeal to all of them by mixing up too many genres and far too many tones. KIN is much too “kiddie” for adults and way too violent to qualify as family fare. It’s flippant and smarmy, not helped by Reynor’s playing cute throughout. By the end, it even tries to become a cautionary tale as one of the aliens, played by a surprise big-name cameo, lectures Eli about destiny and honor. The ending even cynically sets up an obvious path to a sequel, but what film doesn’t want to be a franchise these days? KIN could have been a serious-minded sci-fi adventure with an emphasis on the limits of a lawless life. Instead, its most persuasive argument seems to be that crime and murder are pretty cool if you’re the one wielding the ray-gun.