Kin is intriguing and entertaining, a rare original sci-fi flick that leaves audiences wanting to know more—but it's kind of hard to tell who it's made for.
Just one small example: It's a movie about a kid who finds an incredibly advanced weapon and helps his delinquent older brother learn the importance of family values and going straight and doing right in this hard world of ours—with a pivotal scene that takes place in a strip club.
Granted, it's a PG-13 strip club. The bikini-filled exotic lounge is roughly equivalent to what critic Glenn Kenny calls "the time-honored cinematic convention of bra sex"—that is, a quick and easy suggestion of titillation without actually being titillating. And, granted, the movie was already kind of dark to be a straight-up kiddie flick: Jimmy Solinski (Jack Reynor), the aforementioned delinquent, goes on the run with adopted younger brother Eli (Myles Truitt) after local hood Taylor Balik (James Franco) kills the pair's dad, Hal (Dennis Quaid), during a robbery gone wrong.
Still, setting a pivotal scene in a movie for kids in an inherently adult setting kind of limits the potential audience for this sort of movie. It's not quite teen-friendly enough to play like Flight of the Navigator or Goonies; it's not quite adult enough to play like Midnight Special, the movie that Kin is closest to in tone and look. Limiting the box office appeal like this is unfortunate, since the final 15 minutes of the movie set up a whole universe of which we were previously unaware, offering a cliffhanger that suggests Kin might have been better served as a Netflix pilot. It feels like an appetizer, an opening chapter, a promise of more to come—a promise that, in all likelihood, won't be kept.
Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker tell the story of the Solinski family effectively and efficiently, moving us through the ruins of Detroit and showing us what life is like for folks trying to scrape by and get their life back together post-prison. Their camera glides overhead and behind, silently following Eli while he scavenges for scrap. It lingers on the nigh-on magical gun Eli finds during one of his adventures, audience and kid learning its secrets at the same time.
And the Bakers have a great eye for design. Eli and Jimmy are chased across the country by a pair of silent goons, dressed all in black, looking like refugees from the Halo video game series. They have style and skill and so many great toys, little tracking devices that recreate scenes we've seen in order to aid them in their effort to reacquire the weapon that Eli wields. The whole thing is believably mysterious, which isn't an easy trick to pull off.
Truitt and Reynor have solid, fraternal chemistry. Truitt is never annoying or cloying, as child actors sometimes can be, and Reynor nails the prodigal son bit: Jimmy has made bad choices in the past, makes bad choices in the film, and will, we would guess, make bad choices in the future—but he's trying. It's always fun to watch Franco go off and do his own weird thing; here he's playing the head of a Detroit crime family as if he's a gypsy out of the trailer parks in Snatch. Greasy, mulleted, and snarling, Taylor Balik's story echoes that of the Solinski clan. He's just a man committed to his family, seeking revenge against a man who wronged him and killed his brother.
Carrie Coon is also in the film, all-too-briefly, as an FBI agent trying to track down the Solinskis—and here, again, is where we see the tantalizing taste of a story that is simply in the wrong medium. I'd watch eight more hours of Carrie Coon trying to figure out the mystery of the Solinski kids while the kids were themselves trying to figure out Eli's place in the universe and why he's being hunted by black-clad killers from beyond our plane of existence! I'd love to see what kind of gadgets the Bakers could dream up, what other worlds they have stored away.
Alas, we'll have to settle for a smaller story—albeit a well-told, entertaining one. There are worse ways to spend a Friday evening.