Early in Kin, teenaged troublemaker Elijah (Myles Truitt) asks his adopted dad Hal (Dennis Quaid) whether swiping something that was left untouched for years is really considered stealing.
“Everything that has ever been stolen is something that was just sitting there,” Hal grumbles.
The good news: That is precisely the sort of line you’d pay to hear Quaid so perfectly purr. Too bad it’s also the rationale by which directors Jonathan and Josh Baker justify their buffet-line binge of bits from decades of better films in their loud, limp, bargain-basement boom-boom feature debut.
Kin references a county called Sulaco here, a business called Belloq Industries there and, in head-slap foreshadowing, an arcade tie-in from a film franchise to which the Bakers hold only the thinnest, dimmest candle. (Not that said franchise continues to hold up much of a candle for itself these days.) At least the score from post-rock royalty Mogwai offers sturdy atmosphere and layered synth work suitable to something with larger aims. The Bakers also wrangle an unexpected cameo from an A-list actor whose effervescence could stand to be something more than ephemeral here. It’s a 100-second surprise in a mostly uninteresting 100-minute mishmash.
If science-fiction were the seed for Bag Man, the Bakers’ short that is expanded upon here, it feels like the weed in Kin, sprouting up like overgrowth. Hunting for scrap metal, Elijah discovers a futuristic gun capable of vaporizing haystacks and villainous heels. Of course, the weapon’s shadowy, helmeted original owners are on its trail — using tracking tools shaped suspiciously like the AirBNB logo and painted with all the colors of the Tron.
A series of tragic circumstances sends Elijah on the run from a Detroit crime syndicate alongside his older, adoptive, ex-con brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor), and hauling a bag of cash as big as his weapon. Physically abused by his birth parents before he could remember the pain, Elijah nevertheless traces the scars and wonders if he’ll grow as callous and careless. The same goes for Milly (Zoë Kravitz), a Stripper with a Heart of Gold™ whom Jimmy and Elijah meet on their escape route to Nevada.
Confined to one solid scene, the whispers of solace that Milly and Elijah find in each other’s survival instincts is infinitely more interesting than either character Kin elevates to its emotional, or overly emotive, center. (Plus, it’s not long before poor, poor Zoë Kravitz is basically just screaming “Sixty grand and a space gun?! Who the hell are you people?”)
After his slyly comic, wily-big-bro pivot in Sing Street, Reynor merely regresses to the all-smile, no-guile, real-doll version of Chris Pratt he fumbled for in Transformers: Age of Whatever.
Then there’s Taylor Balik, a character described by a Wikipedia contributor as “a crime lord with fabulous hair.” Let’s be real. You know James Franco uploaded that nugget himself to describe his own character and grinned all the while like the cat who got the cream. While lamenting his fallen lackeys, Taylor leaves his DNA all over a crime scene. Franco likewise leaves his all over the scenery, in one scene pissing on the floor to reflect this performance’s progressive path to the toilet. Look at my shit, indeed.
With screenwriting help from Daniel Casey, the Baker boys labor mightily to flesh out Kin. Instead, the film just feints with the inherent resignations and resentments of surrogate family situations, flirts with a timeworn genre story of destiny foretold, and fritters away any attempt to consider how the story of a black boy like Elijah brandishing a giant weapon in redneck America could resonate in any meaningful way.
If the best movies from which to steal boast verve and vibrancy that’s recognizable even many decades later, consider Kin the lifeless dolt sleeping it off in a back alley. It won’t wake up in the event that some future filmmakers riffle its pockets, but all they’ll find is a frayed, worn hole.