Review: Even for the Realm of YA Sci-Fi, the Boy-Befriends-a-Gun Storyline of 'Kin' is Pretty Messed Up
Look, I am here to support Zoë Kravitz in every choice she makes. I even thought about buying tickets to Reese Witherspoon’s book tour because Zoë is interviewing her at the Washington, D.C. date, which is the closest to me in Baltimore! That is commitment!
But the reality is that Kin, in which Kravitz co-stars, is not a good movie and I’m not sure why it got made and did you even know this was a movie and how is it getting a specialized IMAX release? I was one of five people in a gigantic IMAX theater last night to see Kin, which didn’t screen for press, and I’m pretty sure this thing is going to bomb, but at least no one took out their phone during the movie’s 102-minute run time, so that was kind of a success?
Based on the short film Bag Man from co-directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, who adapt their own work here, Kin is a random mish-mash of a variety of themes and tones, none of which really work well together, although somehow there is a stacked cast here to give it their best shot: the aforementioned Kravitz; Jack Reynor (of Sing Street, for whom I am perpetually thirsty); Carrie Coon, Dennis Quaid, and newcomer Myles Truitt (whom you may recognize from TV roles on Atlanta, Queen Sugar, and Black Lightning).
Oh, and James Franco, who is great at playing a skeezeball and is basically doing a sort of variation on his Spring Breakers character but with a shitty banged mullet, swallow neck tattoos, and a selection of gross sweaters. And I think I speak for all of us when I wonder, “Are you good at this because you’re just skeevy as hell in real life? A question for our time.”
(Also, shout out to the person who on Wikipedia updated the Kin cast listing to include “James Franco as Taylor Balik, a crime lord with fabulous hair.” Whoever you are … you’re suspect.)
I do not know how all these people signed onto this movie! I am unsure why Lionsgate spent $30 million on the rights! I can respect that Pajiba 10 member Michael B. Jordan was an executive producer on this, and good for him, but also, maybe this was not the best choice!
Kin begins in Detroit, where 14-year-old Elijah (Truitt) is being raised by his widowed father, Hal (Quaid); the movie tells us over and over again that Elijah is adopted because did you know that he is black and his parents were white? Crazy! Suspended from school after getting in a fight with classmates who insulted his dead mother, Elijah is struggling to get along with his strict father, who is especially on edge because Elijah’s older brother, Jimmy (Reynor, looking good with some stubble and a Carhartt jacket because I have a type), is being released from prison after serving six years.
Jimmy went to prison for stealing, which Elijah is beginning to do, collecting scrap metal from various abandoned job sites around Detroit (which, we could get into a discussion of whether abandoned materials really belong to corporations after a certain point, but fine, I’ll abstain from pursuing that socioeconomic argument here). Upon realizing what his son is doing, Hal is furious — but what he doesn’t know is that during one of those excursions, Elijah came across an extremely strange scene: an array of dead bodies clad in futuristic-looking armor, one of them decapitated, holding boxy, powerful-looking guns. Intrigued and yet also a little afraid, Elijah takes one of them, yet when he returns later, everything — the bodies, the other weapons — are gone.
What the hell is going on? Who were those people? And what can the gun Elijah has actually do? The potential for violence lingers throughout Kin, especially when it is revealed that Jimmy owes $60,000 to two drug-dealing and gun-smuggling brothers, Taylor (Franco) and Dutch (Gavin Fox) Balik. When Taylor threatens Jimmy’s “little colored brother” (because of course he’s casually racist!), Jimmy realizes that he has to protect his father and his brother — but how?
Kin is trying to tell a few stories at once, but the development of each is fairly lackluster. There’s a brotherhood bonding thing going on when Jimmy suggests to Elijah that they drive cross-country; there’s this dangerous criminal element with Taylor, whose methods include peeing in public as an intimidation tactic and murdering police officers; there’s the whole sci-fi thing, with the mysterious soldiers, their guns, and other unique technologies; and, at a certain point, Milly (Kravitz) enters the proceedings, introduced onstage as a stripper who catches Jimmy’s eye and later bonds with Elijah over their abusive childhoods. (The fact that the only two characters of color are both given backstories where they bear the scars of physical violence is not exactly great.)
There’s so much happening and very little of it meshes together tonally, especially when if you really take this movie at face value, it’s about a lonely teen who finds a gun and who is emboldened by its presence, so much so that he becomes confident, can finally work up the ability to talk to girls, and who kills others in a way that makes it seem like it’s his responsibility to do so. Elijah bonds most primarily not with his brother Jimmy or his hybrid crush/matriarchal figure Milly, but with this ray gun that can blow holes through walls and disintegrate people into Infinity War-like dust. Truitt has a wide-open face that makes you want to take care of him, but the way his character moves from being a passive character to an active one is kind of fucked up, even in the realm of YA sci-fi.
The Bakers do create some interesting flourishes here: They experiment nicely with silhouettes and neon lighting in the strip club scene, and the soldiers use some tools that suggest a more detailed backstory for those characters, including a floating device that looks like Dungeons and Dragons dice and recreates the outlines of people who are no longer standing in an empty room. But altogether, Kin feels like an extended pilot for show on Freeform or the CW than a standalone film — in a different format, with some streamlining, this could be a world worth exploring. But as-is, not even my adoration for Zoë Kravitz or my appreciation for Jack Reynor’s particularly attractive brand of smirking smart-assery can inspire much praise for Kin.
Image sources (in order of posting): Lionsgate Publicity/Epk.tv, Lionsgate Publicity/Epk.tv, Lionsgate Publicity/Epk.tv, Lionsgate Publicity/Epk.tv,
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