“KIN”— 2½ stars — Myles Truitt, Jack Reynor, Dennis Quaid, Zoe Kravitz; PG-13 (gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and drinking); in general release
So an ex-con, a stripper and a troubled teen with a ray gun take a cross-country road trip on the run from a prison enforcer and two alien bounty hunters with motorcycles. Also, Dennis Quaid dies.
On paper, the plot for “Kin” sounds like the setup for a really elaborate joke — or maybe just the product of an overactive 12-year-old imagination. On the screen, it feels like someone opened up Adobe Premiere and spliced together “The Last Starfighter” and Michael Mann’s “Heat.”
Did I mention this is a PG-13 movie?
The best way to follow “Kin,” which co-directing brothers Josh and Jonathan Baker have adapted from their short film “Bag Man,” is to focus on its protagonist, Eli (Myles Truitt). Eli is a 14-year-old boy in Detroit who lives with his stern adoptive father Hal (Dennis Quaid). One day, while exploring an abandoned warehouse, Eli comes across what looks like the aftermath of a stormtrooper battle and he winds up taking one of their guns home.
So far, so good.
Around this same time, his stepbrother Jimmy (“Sing Street” MVP Jack Reynor) returns home after a six-year stint in prison. To survive prison, he went into debt with a local crimelord named Taylor (James Franco, in full scumbag mode), who somehow expects payment immediately upon release. When that doesn’t happen, guns are drawn, Hal gets killed and Jimmy and Eli skip town and head for Lake Tahoe with the laser gun (because their deceased mother liked the area).
On their way west, with Taylor and his goons in pursuit, Jimmy and Eli stop at a Nebraska strip club to make new enemies, try out the ray gun and convince an exotic dancer named Milly (Zoe Kravitz) to join the party. Meanwhile, a pair of futuristic soldiers also pick up their trail after using advanced technology to figure out what happened to their missing weapon.
Now, just reading through this plot summary should be enough to raise an eyebrow or two. But what is truly strange is the way the Baker brothers have tried to blend completely incompatible genres on screen.
Front to back, “Kin” is an extremely dark movie, with a bleak and ponderous tone. If there was ever a case for introducing a new rating in-between PG-13 and R, this may be it (the first “Taken” movie also springs to mind here). “Kin” is very violent but never graphic enough to draw an R rating. Even stranger, the Bakers manage to pull off a 15-minute scene in a strip club without including any nudity.
If the film were aimed at adults, or at least adults hoping to avoid R-rated content, this might make a little more sense. But it feels like “Kin” is meant to appeal to a younger audience — one that might relate to Eli — and though its content technically never crosses any lines, it is grossly inappropriate for younger audiences.
As far as execution goes, the Bakers have produced a very watchable film. There are moments of great tension, the buildup to Eli actually using the alien gun is quite suspenseful and the special effects are very well done. Even the acting seems pretty spot-on, and Truitt’s appeal as Eli is a perfect complement to Franco’s despicable Taylor.
But there are also plenty of moments where you just shake your head and wonder what on earth you are seeing, such as when the film’s tone toggles between crime drama and science fiction and a big third-act reveal feels both satisfying and like a cop-out. It’s immensely entertaining, but for equally good and bad reasons.
Altogether, “Kin” is 30 percent awesome and 70 percent hot mess. It’s difficult to recommend in good conscience, at least to its presumed target audience, but Team Baker still deserves credit for putting together a unique experience. This one doesn’t quite work, but I’d be very interested to see what they come up with next.
“Kin” is rated PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and drinking; running time: 102 minutes.