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Heading into what's essentially the tail end of the summer blockbuster season, it's kind of hard to keep some of the movies straight, especially when some of them are sold so similarly. Take A-X-L and Kin: two movies I've been confusing for the past couple of weeks, as they've both been positioned as "kid finds tech that doesn't belong to them and goes on an adventure" romps setting out to do similar things. After actually seeing Kin, not only is it not deserving of such a top level layer of confusion, it's also not even the film its trailer is selling -- and it's all the better for it.
Eli (Myles Truitt) is about to reunite with his brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor), who has just gotten out of prison after a six year sentence. Unfortunately, that reunion is soon complicated by a botched robbery meant to pay off a dangerous criminal (James Franco) who protected Jimmy in prison. As if that wasn't complicated enough, Eli has a secret of his own: he possesses an otherworldly weapon that can do some serious damage. A weapon whose original and equally mysterious owners are looking to recover.
Considering that Kin is the feature film debut for writer/director pair Jonathan and Josh Baker, it is a pretty confidently crafted film. The visual style is clearly defined, and the characters are incredibly solid, leading to some clever performances from the entire cast. Particularly, Truitt and Reynor's chemistry as brothers skips past the fact that they're adopted, landing their on-screen relationship more along the lines of siblings that do not miss a step after six years apart. Throw into the mix Dennis Quaid (doing his best Harrison Ford impression) as the patriarch of the family, James Franco playing his standard psychotic / comedic villain archetype, and Zoe Kravitz as a kindly stripper, and you've got the core cast that drives Kin's interesting, but totally flawed story.
The fact that Kin's story isn't as polished as it should be is the greatest shame when it comes to evaluating this film. Looking at how it's being sold to general audiences, the final product is less schmaltzy and actually darker than the advertisements would let on. That comes from the fact that there's two different films that are fused into Kin's final product: a road drama where a pair of brothers are being chased by a murderous crime lord, and a family adventure where a young boy discovers a gun from out of this world and is being pursued by its rightful owners. While there's definitely credit due to Jonathan and Josh Baker for extending their short film, Bag Man, into a feature that works well enough, the seams between both concepts they're trying to marry are extremely visible.
If Kin had either dumped the concept of the gun and its retrieval completely, or written it into the script better, we'd be looking at possibly the biggest surprise of the summer. There are good patches of this film where the gun, and its owners, are such non-factors to the narrative that it really didn't need to be there. It's only important in the third act, which engages in a predictable, but really entertaining fire fight at a local police station. But just like Carrie Coon's FBI agent character, it really only comes into play in the last portion of the film, which throws a ton of intriguing, sequel-baiting twists onto the wall, and just barely sticks.
Kin is by no means a bad movie, so much as it's a sloppy story that still works as an entertaining experience. Reshaped a little bit, it could have been the anti-violence / pro-family message film that the Bakers are obviously trying to make. While the roughness of the final product does hold it back from being something greater, it doesn't make it an unwatchable film, just a mildly frustrating one. Still, it shouldn't be a problem for those who do take a chance on Kin to not only fall into its rather unique universe, but to come out on the other side wanting to see what happens next.