There’s a throwback aspect to the weirdness of Kin that echoes the strange and flawed genre ideas of the ’70s and ’80s. One film it quickly brings to mind is Laserblast, in which a dopey teenager discovers an alien weapon that changes his life. Kin presents a similar premise but attempts to make it even more of a male wish-fulfillment adventure and simultaneously give it a somber edge with its tale of connecting brothers—and it almost works for how bizarre it turns out to be.
Fresh actor Myles Truitt (Queen Sugar) plays Elijah, a teen in a tough situation. He is the adopted son of the Solinski family, currently facing rocky times in a depressing Detroit; Eli’s father, Hal (Dennis Quaid), is struggling to raise his son after the death of his wife. Complicating the matter is Hal’s adult son, Jimmy (Jack Reynor), newly released from prison and still up to no good. If Hal explodes on Elijah for trespassing in a condemned building and stealing copper wiring, Jimmy smirkingly applauds. Jimmy is also dangerous to be around, considering he owes a lot of money to a gang that is more than eager to slaughter his family. But to Elijah he’s still family and a brother he trusts, even if that trust will end up taking him down some frightening paths.
So how does the alien gun factor into all of this? It serves as extra firepower to make Elijah and Jimmy feel a little more powerful in a world where they have little control. After Elijah stumbles onto it, as if he’s found the hidden power-up in a video game, he quickly comes to understand the mechanics of the weapon, which can shoot blasts powerful enough to put holes through walls and turn bad guys to ash. It’s surprising how easily Elijah takes to the weapon and figures out what it does, but I guess his being keen on such weaponry makes sense given that his favorite show on the television seems to be Bubblegum Crisis. (That’s even more surprising, though—what teenager in the 21st century watches 1980s cyberpunk anime?)
There are a lot of odd touches such as this that the movie poses we should just go with, shirking plausibility. A road trip Elijah and Jimmy take leads them to a neon strip club that Elijah is somehow able to enter because of the cash he slings. (Then again, it must be a little family friendly considering the lack of nudity and the ease with which the strippers come on to underage teenagers.) They meet Milly (Zoë Kravitz), the stripper with a heart of gold, who tags along because someone needs to give an outsider reaction to how weird it is for two brothers to be running around the country with a bag of money and a powerful alien ray gun.
If you’re hoping for sci fi, you may be disappointed to see how uneven the picture is, favoring the tale of brothers on the run over that of a boy and his advanced weapon. The gun is wanted by some beings from another dimension that look like Daft Punk gangsters, always two steps behind Elijah, but as in other smaller-budget sci-fi pictures, the high-tech seekers are kept to a minimum, almost bookending the rest of the story. And when the film finally reveals who they are and what they’re doing there, with an eye roller of a twist, you’ll understand why it was a good idea to keep the alien story in the background.
Kin has such a strange blend of restraint and weirdness that never quite hits the level of fun kid wish fulfillment or dour family and crime drama. The sci-fi antics are neat, while the dialogue is too on the nose, skating that edge between supporting star James Franco being laughable and believable as a ruthless kingpin and Reynor being likable and despicable as a lying thief. There’s enough of a bizarre fascination in such a teetering tale that I’d almost recommend it for further study if only because there’s nothing else quite like it.