With so many movies pre-hyping themselves to the point of absurdity (reviews of trailers? really?), it’s a welcome surprise that a solid, tension-filled action movie can come out of nowhere the way that “Kin” does.
Elijah (played by Myles Truitt) is a 14-year-old kid living in a rundown part of Detroit. He’s an outsider, getting into fights at school and spending most of his down time scavenging for scrap metal in abandoned buildings — a practice his gruff adopted father, Harold (Dennis Quaid), strongly condemns, considering it the same as stealing.
Harold knows about stealing. It’s one of the things that put his adult son, Jimmy (Jack Reynor), in prison for six years. Jimmy is just out of the slammer, and the reunion is a tense one. It gets even more tense when Jimmy tells his dad that he needs $60,000 immediately, to repay a nasty crime boss, Taylor (James Franco), for debts he ran up in prison.
When Jack tries to rob his way out of his plight, it ends in gunplay and blood, and with Jack making a panicked decision: That he and Elijah should make an impromptu road trip to Lake Tahoe. Elijah packs a couple bags, and brings along something he salvaged — a mysterious energy weapon of unknown, possibly alien, origin.
Somewhere around Colorado, the brothers pick up a friend, Millie (Zoë Kravitz), a stripper in need of a change of scenery. As they travel, though, Taylor is on their trail, seeking revenge against Jack. But there are two other figures searching for them: Two black-armored trackers — looking like the guys in Daft Punk — trying to retrieve Elijah’s new weapon.
The brother team of Jonathan and Josh Baker makes a sure-footed feature debut with this mash-up of urban drama, road-trip action and science-fiction intrigue, which they adapted from their own short film, “Bag Man.” The Bakers hit the action beats precisely, cleverly deploy and subvert genre stereotypes, leave room for the character development in Daniel Casey’s screenplay, and make the most of a tight effects budget.
The Bakers assemble a solid cast with Reynor, Quaid, Franco, Kravitz, a brief turn by Carrie Coon as a no-nonsense Fed, and a smart, soulful performance by Truitt, a newcomer with a promising future. It all culminates in a slam-bang ending that genuinely surprises, and makes “Kin” a fun buried treasure to finish the summer.
Opening Friday, August 31, at theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and drinking. Running time: 102 minutes.