James Franco just gets uglier and uglier, this time playing a nasty, low rent gangster in “Kin,” a middling science fiction actioner.
On paper, the Australian filmmaking siblings Jonathan and Josh Baker, who based this feature on their short film “Bag Man,” looked like they had a hit on their hands. The story of a young boy who finds a futuristic ray gun and goes on a road trip fleeing a bloodthirsty criminal had the makings of a wholesome, minor classic fantasy. But what could have been a Joe Dante-like Spielberg meets Cameron flick fails to connect both emotionally and as an action film. The result is an unconvincing mishmash of genre tropes that never takes advantage of obvious retro elements that might have endeared the movie with nostalgic viewers.
The story starts when 14-year-old Eli’s cocky, older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) is released from prison. Their blue-collar father Hal (Dennis Quaid) begrudgingly welcomes him back home. But Jimmy’s hiding some big problems. He’s in deep to criminal Taylor Balik (James Franco), who provided him with protection while he was inside the big house. Forced to steal in order to keep Taylor from hurting his family, Jimmy involves the unwitting Eli (Myles Truitt) and their moralistic father in a crime that won’t end well.
After the botched robbery, Jimmy and Eli take to the open road, leaving the run down city of Detroit in favor of a cross-country trek to Tahoe. Along the way, Jimmy seems destined to get the twosome in even more trouble. But their luck changes when they pick up a stripper named Milly (Zoë Kravitz), who, naturally, has a heart of gold. All the while, unknown to Jimmy, Eli is carrying with him a futuristic weapon that he discovered while stealing copper from a decaying building. And when things get sideways, it’s that gun that may offer them a violent escape.
Eye-rolling and overly familiar, “Kin” is an artificial construct that tries to build an intense and brutal narrative within PG-13 restrictions. So, when Jimmy and Eli visit a strip club, for example, the strippers keep their clothes on. And the language used by the rough and tumble characters is awkward. Alcohol consumption, often in massive qualities, never seems to slow Jimmy down—he’s got the instant sober talent. And the adult situations are contrived, forced, and do not convince viewers that the relationships are authentic.
The script, written by Daniel Casey (“Fast & Furious 9”), seems to copy portions of the James Mangold film “Logan.” Jimmy and Eli drive a pickup along the roads of the American Midwest admiring the countryside, while they secretly harbor some kind of alien technology. They even end up at a casino. And the plot itself might also may lift ideas from the notorious, Charles Band produced, 1978 film “Laserblast,” a movie I’ve been meaning to revisit just to confirm how bad it really is. Additionally, there’s a scene that will remind one of “The Terminator.” It’s all intentionally derivative—a pale imitation.
But here we do have an intriguing concept: a lonely young person bonds with a dangerous gun from outer space (or somewhere) that gives the powerless a leg up. But unlike the corrupting influence such a device has on the protagonist in “Laserblast,” the Bakers give no definition to Eli, and he barely registers among the cast. His personality is placid and relatively unchanged as the outlandish events progress around him. I dare say that Eli is the mildest and least interesting hero depicted on screen in some time.
But what is really unforgivable is how this film marks the further decline of James Franco. The handsome, talented, Oscar-nominated actor and director fell from grace last year amid allegations of sexual misconduct. This effectively nuked his chances of Academy Award gold, even after his win at the Golden Globes.
“Kin” arrives on the heels of Franco’s badly reviewed and barely released “Future World” in which he plays another grimy, disreputable cretin. And in “Kin,” Franco outdoes his nasty self by, in one scene, urinating at a cash register in a convenience store. This yucky sequence, which is completely unnecessary, might get a few uncomfortable, low brow laughs. It is almost as bad as the Zac Efron-Nicole Kidman jellyfish scene in the “The Paperboy.”
A perfunctory exercise, halfheartedly boosted to theatrical release because of an attractive and popular cast, “Kin” is recycled science fiction that wastes a potentially crowd-pleasing premise.