Thursday, September 20, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Kin

Kin was written by Daniel Casey and directed by Josh and Jonathan Baker.

Casey is a writer, actor and director. He previously wrote The Passage, Secrets Of Fenville and The Death Of Michael Smith, none of which I've ever heard of.

The Bakers are working partners who previously directed several short films. Kin appears to be their theatrical debut, and is based on their short film Bag Man.

Overall it's not a bad debut. It's a fun little low-stakes sci-fi film with an interesting story, and features some top notch acting. 

It starts out promisingly, but falters a bit in the second act before rallying at the end. Some of the plotting's a little clunky, but seeing as it's the Baker's first feature, I'll allow it.

Unfortunately Kin features pretty much the exact same plot as 1978's Laserblast (which I'll get to in more detail later). It actually became distracting after a while, as I sat in the theater mentally comparing the two movies. 
Was this similarity just a coincidence? Or did the Bakers deliberately ape Laserblast, figuring no one would ever remember such an obscure film? Well, I remember it, Josh and Jonathan. I remember.

Somehow Kin cost $30 million dollars to make, which is a lot for an indie film like this. I'm honestly not sure where all that money went. Sure, it's a good looking movie, but it's VERY light on CGI and special effects. I have a feeling the bulk of the budget probably went to stars Dennis Quaid and James Franco?

So far the movie's absolutely tanking at the box office. It's grossed a paltry $8.6 million against its whopping $30 million budget! WOW! Now that's a flop!

I can tell you why it bombed— because nobody knows it's out! I go to the cineplex every weekend and see tons of trailers, so I consider myself pretty well informed, movie-wise. Yet I never saw a single piece of marketing for Kin. No trailers, no posters, no signs on the sides of buses, nothing. In fact I didn't even know the movie existed until the day I saw it!

I get that smaller studios don't have the marketing budgets of the big dogs, but... if you want people to show up for your movie, you gotta advertise, guys.


The Plot:
Eli Solinski (played by newcomer Miles Truitt) is a fourteen year old boy who lives with his adoptive father Hal (played briefly by Dennis Quaid) in the economic ruins of Detroit. When Eli's suspended from school for fighting, Hal sternly tells him he needs to straighten up and fly right if he ever hopes to succeed. Hal then mentions that his biological son Jimmy is being paroled and coming to stay with them, and warns Eli to "be careful around him."

Eli sneaks out of the house and goes to an abandoned factory to scavenge copper wiring. He stumbles across the aftermath of a battle between what appear to be armored aliens. Eli notices a high tech rifle lying next to one of the corpses, and picks it up. He accidentally turns it on, spooking him and causing him to run home.

Later that evening, Jimmy (played by Jack Reynor) returns home to a chilly reception from Hal. Jimmy asks if Hal can get him a job at the construction company where he works. Hal refuses, saying he doesn't trust him to do a good job. Harsh! Jimmy storms out of the house in anger.

Jimmy pays a visit to Taylor Balik (played by James Franco, of all people), a strange and violent local drug dealer. Jimmy owes Balik $60,000, and now that he's out of prison, his bill is due. Jimmy assures him he has the money, but needs time to get his hands on it. Balik warns Jimmy not to think about skipping out on him, or something bad might happen to his family.

That night Eli has a dream about the high tech weapon. He sneaks out, returns to the factory and recovers the Gun. He fiddles with it and accidentally fires a plasma blast across the factory. He giggles, wraps it up and brings it back home. There he overhears Jimmy arguing with Hal. Somehow Jimmy knows Hal's boss has a safe full of money, and asks him to help steal $60,000 to pay off his debt. Disgusted with his own kin (hey!), Hal kicks Jimmy out of the house and tells him not to come back.

The next day Hal flips his lid when he finds out Eli's been "stealing" copper wire from old buildings. He tells Eli he's going to pay back the owners of the properties, along with calling them all and apologizing. He drives Eli to his construction site office to get the list of local building owners (gosh, that's not contrived at all), and notices the door's open. He tells Eli to stay put, and cautiously enters the office trailer.

Inside Hal finds Jimmy and Balik robbing the boss' safe. Hal tells them to put they money back or else. There's a scuffle and Balik shoots and kills Hal (!). In the confusion, Jimmy shoots Balik's brother Dutch, grabs the money and runs off.

The movie then takes a bizarre turn, as it shifts its focus from Eli to Jimmy. He piles into Hal's truck, where Eli's still waiting. He says Hal suddenly suggested they drive to their vacation cabin in Lake Tahoe, where he'll meet them later. Amazingly, Eli buys this obviously phony story. 

They stop back home to grab some clothes, and Eli secretly stuffs the Gun into his backpack. They roar off a second before Balik and his thugs arrive and ransack the place. A furious Balik vows to kill Jimmy, no matter what it takes.

Jimmy and Eli then bond along the way to Nevada. Jimmy stops at a strip club, and bribes the bouncer to let the underage Eli in. Inside, Jimmy makes a spectacle of himself, tossing back drinks and throwing around money like it's going out of style. They befriend a stripper named Milly (played by Zoe Kravitz), who takes a motherly shine to Eli.

Just then a drunken Jimmy tries to climb on stage and dance with Milly. Lee, the owner of the club, orders his men to beat the living crap out of him. As they pummel him senseless, Eli suddenly appears, holding the Gun (I guess he ran out to the truck to get it?). He fires, blowing a hole in the side of the building. Eli & Jimmy run for the truck, and Milly follows them for no good reason, other than because the script says so.

Meanwhile, two seemingly alien figures outfitted in helmets and uniforms arrive at the warehouse back in Detroit. They scan the aftermath of the battle, and determine the Gun is missing. They detect it hundreds of miles away, so they commandeer two motorcycles and speed off after it.

At the same time, Balik figures out where Jimmy's going, and he and his men head for Lake Tahoe.

Back in the truck, Jimmy realizes he left his bag of money (the $60,000 he stole from Hal's company) back at Lee's. Milly says she knows how to get it back, and leads them to a farm in the middle of nowhere. There Lee and his buddies have a permanent high-stakes poker game going on. Jimmy & Eli disguise themselves, break into the farm building and take the money back. Eli fires the Gun to show them they mean business, and they flee. Eli destroys Lee's vehicles so he can't pursue them, and they drive off.

The trio arrives in Nevada, get a luxury room at a casino hotel and begin living it up. Jimmy heads straight for the casino, while Milly chats with Eli in his room. She tells him about her childhood, saying she ran from her abusive father when she was a teen and has been on her own ever since. She notices a small scar on Eli's thumb, and he says he probably got it from his real father when he was a baby (PLOT POINT!). She tells him he should be proud of this tiny, almost unnoticeable scar, as it means he's a survivor.

They go down to the casino to look for Jimmy. Eli sees a news report on Hal's murder, which identifies both him and Jimmy as suspects. The crowd spots them, and before you can say Laserblast they're both arrested. Milly watches from the sidelines and slips off. Don't worry, the movie's just trying to make us think she abandoned them. She'll be back at the most dramatically appropriate time

Jimmy's tossed into a county jail cell, while the police interrogate Eli. They take him to see Jimmy, and he accuses him of killing Hal (which he sort of did, indirectly). Eli angrily tells him he never wants to see him again.

Just then Balik and his men arrive at the jail, and obliterate the entire police force, Terminator-style. A dying cop tosses the keys to the evidence locker to Eli, somehow knowing his high tech alien/futuristic Gun will be able to stop Balik.

Eli retrieves the Gun and fires on Balik's thugs, blowing them up in gorgeous sprays of technicolor gore. Balik sees what's happening and runs for the hills. Eli apparently has a change of heart and frees Jimmy.

They enter the jail lobby, and see what appears to be every cop in Nevada outside, their guns trained on them. Realizing there's no hope, Jimmy says they have to surrender and orders Eli to set the Gun on the floor.

Just then Balik reappears and shoots at Jimmy's head. Eli watches as the bullet sails through the air, slows and then finally stops. As he looks around, he realizes time has apparently stopped for everyone but him.

The two helmeted figures enter the lobby and approach Jimmy. One of these "Cleaners" (played by Michael B. Jordan) removes his helmet and reveals he's human, or at least humanoid. The Cleaner says Eli's actually from his world, which is in the middle of a centuries-long war. He says Eli was hidden on Earth until he's old enough to join the fight. Sure, why not.

The Cleaner takes the Gun back and deactivates it. He shows Eli that he has a scar on his thumb too, which is actually an implant that allows him to use the Gun. As Eli looks at his scar in wonder, the Cleaner tells him to stay with Jimmy.

Eli points out that there's currently a bullet headed right for Jimmy's noggin. The other Cleaner walks over and turns the bullet around so it's aimed at Balik. The two then open a rip in spacetime, walk into it and leave.

Time starts back up, and the bullet hits Balik in the head, killing him instantly. Jimmy's arrested yet AGAIN.

Cut to FBI Agent Morgan Hunter questioning Eli. She tells him Jimmy will go to jail, but not for as long as he thinks (?). She asks him about the Gun, but Eli refuses to talk about it. Morgan accepts this and leaves. Milly arrives (told you) and embraces Eli.

• Apparently the filmmakers could only afford Dennis Quaid for a week or so, as his character's killed off at the end of the first act. Quaid brought a real sense of gravitas and gruff realism to the movie, and I liked his Hal character quite a bit. 
Too bad they got rid of him, as the film definitely could have used more Hal.

• The Kin trailer starts with an overhead drone shot of a city, accompanied by a couple of somber plinks on a single piano key. You know, THE SAME EXACT WAY EVERY GODDAMNED TRAILER I'VE SEEN THIS YEAR HAS STARTED.

Apparently the "Plink" is this year's "BRAAAHHHHHMMMM!"

For some reason, the movie takes every possible opportunity to explain to us why Eli, who's black, has a white father and brother. Yeah, we get it, movie. He was adopted. It's not that hard to understand, and we could have figured it out on our own.

• For a sci-fi movie, there aren't a lot of flashy special effects in Kin. Most of the CGI revolves around the alien/high tech/futuristic Gun, which seemingly has a life of its own as it unlocks and unfolds in Eli's hands. 

The sparse effects all look great though, which is always a plus. In fact the entire movie looks good, with some gorgeous and interesting cinematography.

• I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but that said, it has its share of clumsy plotting. For example, there's the Jimmy's non-explanation for the sudden road trip.

Hal surprises Jimmy and Balik as they rob his office safe. Balik then shoots and kills Hal. A panicked Jimmy escapes and climbs into Hal's truck, where Eli's waiting. When Eli asks what's going on, Jimmy lies and says Hal suggested they go on an impromptu vacationin the middle of the night.


OK, I realize Eli's just a kid, but I'm having trouble believing he'd accept Jimmy's obviously phony story so easily. Just a few minutes earlier Hal was so angry he was practically foaming at the mouth. Why the hell would he suddenly suggest a family vacation?

This scene's doubly stupid when you remember that Jimmy's been in prison for six years, and is virtually a stranger to Eli. He has absolutely no reason to believe anything Jimmy says.

I understand that the movie needed to get the two brothers alone so they could bond, but surely there was a smoother way to go about it.

In a similar vein, Milly suddenly decides to chuck her whole life and take up with these two brothers she's known for all of an hour. There's absolutely no sane or logical reason for her to do this, other than because the script said so.

• I'm not a fan of the movie's mid-point shift in focus. The first act is all about Eli, giving us a look at his somber, lonely life, and the spark of hope after he finds the mysterious Gun.

Then suddenly the movie becomes all about Jimmy and his attempts to stay one step ahead of Balik. Jimmy's nowhere near as interesting as the movie thinks he is, which dings its overall enjoyment quite a bit.

I'm assuming the filmmakers thought Eli wouldn't be able to carry the movie by himself, so they shoehorned Jimmy in to share character duties. But there was no reason to practically shove Eli off the screen just to make room for Jimmy.

• Earlier I said that Kin has the same basic plot as Laserblast, and I wasn't kidding. Let's take a look at the two movies, shall we?

— In Laserblast, two aliens hunt down a man with green skin, who's wearing a strange necklace and carrying a high-tech gun. They vaporize him, and for some reason leave the gun and necklace lying on the ground.

— In Kin, several armored aliens have a battle for some reason in an abandoned warehouse. They're all killed or wounded, and one drops his high-tech Gun on the ground.

— In Laserblast, "teenager" Billy Duncan is wandering the desert and finds the alien necklace and gun. He puts on the necklace and plays around with the gun like a six year old. He's shocked when it fires a powerful death ray, and he realizes the necklace allows him to control the weapon.

— In Kin, teenager Eli Solinski scrounges around in an abandoned warehouse, and finds a high tech, alien Gun. He plays around with it and is shocked when it fires a powerful death ray. Later on he discovers a chip implanted in his thumb that allows him to control the weapon.

— In Laserblast, two cool looking stop-motion aliens return to Earth to hunt for the high tech weapon. They discover Billy has it, but by this time he's been taken over by the necklace and has become a deadly monster. They have no choice but to kill him.

— In Kin, two alien Cleaners return to Earth to hunt for the high tech Gun. They discover Eli has it, and fortunately they take it peacefully from him.

The details and a couple subplots differ, and Kin is better by leaps and bounds, but they're basically the same damn movie!

About the only difference between the two films is that in Laserblast, the otherworldly necklace grafts itself to Billy's chest, and slowly transforms him into an alien.

• Eli discovers the truth about Jimmy in Nevada, when he sees a news report on Hal's death. Um... was Hal really such a prominent citizen that his murder would be reported nationwide? He lived in Detroit, for poop's sake! There're probably fifteen or twenty murders there every day! There's no way his death would be reported clear on the other side of the country.

• After their arrest, Jimmy and Eli are taken to the Sulaco County jail in Nevada. I check just out of curiosity, and sure enough there's no such place in that state. Was that a not-so-subtle ALIENS reference?

• Michael B. Jordan was one of the producers of Kin, and has a small role at the end as one of the Cleaners.

• Speaking of the Cleaners, the movie gives us precious little info on who or what they are. The Male Cleaner talks about the war on his world, and says Eli was hidden here on Earth until he was ready to join the fight.

This implies that the Cleaners— and Eli as well— are aliens who look exactly like humans. Or does it? I guess they could also be humans from the future, who fled Earth for some reason and sent Eli to the past for safe keeping.

I don't need for a movie to explain every tiny detail to me, but this was all a little too vague for my liking.

• So why are these alien soldiers called "Cleaners?" That's never really explained either. I'm assuming they were sent to "clean up" the mess caused by the Gun getting into the hands of someone not yet ready to handle it?

• In the final minutes of the movie, the Male Cleaner shows Eli that he has a scar on his thumb, just like he does. At first I thought he was implying he was really Eli from the future. Apparently not though, and every soldier on their world is implanted with a weapon chip that leaves a scar.

• Boy, Agent Hunter sure seems to give up awfully easy. She questions Eli about his role in Jimmy's crime spree, specifically about the Gun. Eli refuses to say anything about it, and Hunter pretty much says, "Welp, I tried. There's literally nothing else I can do, as there're no laws or courts that could force you to answer my questions! Checkmate!"

Kin is a decent little sci-fi film with some fun, low-key effects and good performances. There's some clunky plotting, and it drags a bit in the middle, but overall it's not too bad. Sadly it's not an original story though, as it cribs its basic plot from Laserblast. It's still worth a look though, and I recommend it. I give it good solid B.

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