Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker adapt their short film Bag Man into the feature film, Kin, with mixed results. Set in Detroit, the film follows Eli (Myles Truitt), a 14-year-old kid who finds a futuristic space gun in an abandoned warehouse. Eli keeps it under wraps, all the while his widowed father, Hal (Dennis Quaid), tries to raise him right. On top of that, his older brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor), is released from prison, making things difficult for Hal’s household. Soon, the two brothers are on the run from a crime lord who Jimmy owes money to, and Eli decides to use that nifty space gun in self-defense, bringing the attention of not just law enforcement, but the owners of the weapon. It’s an interesting hook, dropping this weapon into a family drama-action-crime film. But the slick, glossy filmmaking can’t help the problems within the story, and just how the actions of the main characters end up being morally icky at times.
The cast is well-rounded; newcomer Myles Truitt shines as Eli. His struggle to connect with his father is touching, and him finally finding common ground with his brother doesn’t feel forced. Truitt carries the film as the lead, while every other character manages to interestingly fill out the frames. James Franco plays the crime boss who tracks the two brothers; this is yet another role where Franco is just wound up and left to play, for better or worse. It’s an over-the-top performance and a suitable villain with a capital V. Quaid has entered full Harrison Ford-grumpy-old-man mode and it works here—he grumps it up just enough while still being a heartfelt figure in Eli’s life.
Eli’s brother Jimmy and his actions through most of the movie should give everyone watching pause. It’s not Reynor’s performance itself that’s the problem—the actor does his best with the material given—the script, by Daniel Casey, pushes Jimmy and Eli along on a road trip that has the two ‘finding themselves and each other’ but doing irreversible harm along the way. Jimmy decides to keep a secret from Eli for, really, way too long. Reynor’s inner struggle is captured well, but it’s dumbfounding just how he handles himself and his loved ones. This is no quest for redemption; it’s an ex-con brother who manages to keep fumbling his way through situations where he drags his younger brother along. Fun this is not.
Remember, the cool aspect of the film is the high-tech gun that falls into the hands of a teenage kid. Eli uses it to defend his brother at the strip club Jimmy takes them to—Jimmy just wants to have fun, you know. Then, Jimmy convinces Eli to use the gun to hold up a card game to get back a great deal of money that he lost at the strip club. The Baker brothers don’t treat these scenes as zany adventures; the tone feels all too real, especially when you’re putting a kid at the front line of violence.
There’s a hint to a greater world by the time the film enters its third act. In a nod to The Terminator, our heroes are cornered in a police station, as the gangsters make their way inside. It’s a violent end—with Eli, once again, using the cool gun to mow down the bad guys. Morally, the film tries to explain away why Eli has a special connection with this killing weapon, but it feels like putting a Band-Aid on the Hoover Dam.
Kin is impressive in style, making a lot of a seemingly low budget. It’s another ‘80s-inspired sci-fi tale (see Upgrade), but one with something unsettling at its core. Not even Zoë Kravitz or Carrie Coon’s appearances can wipe the simple fact that there’s nothing adventurous or fulfilling about what its characters do and how exactly a cool gun plays into the story. Kin does set up a Kin 2, but at this point, it doesn’t feel like the right franchise to back, in this day and age especially.