It’s not yet September, but 2018 may see no stranger release than “Kin.” It’s a crime movie, with two major robberies, multiple murders, and a jail break-in. That’s right, break-in. It’s a road movie, starting in Detroit and ending at Lake Tahoe. It’s a sci-fi movie, as in when was the last time you heard the words “ray gun” used with a straight face in a major motion picture? So it should come as no surprise that “Kin” never really coheres — until about 90 minutes in, when a wild, wild plot twist comes to the motorcycle-riding rescue.
So, yeah, “Kin” is a bit of a biker movie, too. More important, it’s also a family drama. In their first-time feature-directing effort, twin brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker — speaking of kin — turn Cain and Abel inside out and upside down. Why be east of Eden when you end up that far west of Motown?
The brothers in front of the camera are definitely not twins. Jimmy, an ex-con whose skank factor could earn him a place on Michael Cohen’s client list, has a 14-year-old stepbrother, Eli (Myles Truitt). Jack Reynor’s muscular performance as Jimmy poses two problems, neither of them his fault. First, he looks so much like Chris Pratt you keep expecting Bradley Cooper-voiced raccoons to chase him and Eli as they roll down the Interstate. Second, Reynor does his job too well, perhaps: He’s so convincing as a sleaze his unpalatability gets in the way. When Jimmy tells Eli, “Hey, we’re here to do life lessons” it’s as oh-boy-incongruous a movie moment as Dennis Hopper in “Red Rock West” (1993) urging Nicolas Cage, “Choose life.”
Truitt’s Eli is the heart of “Kin”: a smart, scared kid whose intelligence ultimately wins out over his fear. His discovery of that ray gun, in an abandoned Detroit warehouse, is the movie’s chief MacGuffin, along with $60,000 that Jimmy owes a small-time gangster. James Franco (further skank) has far too much fun playing the bad guy. He sinks his teeth in so deep the gums show. It’s not a pretty sight.
Truitt’s quiet wariness is the finest thing in a movie full of good acting. The ever-unswerving Carrie Coon shows up as an FBI agent at a crucial moment. Dennis Quaid, as Jimmy and Eli’s dad, has the lost-cause look of a man who knows that “doom” is how auto-correct spells “fate.” The fact that Quaid and Reynor are white, and Truitt is black, is one of the many ways “Kin” upends expectations. It’s like all the genre mixing-and-matching that way.
It takes a while to find out the racial backstory, but we do, and what we learn matters. It chimes with the presence of Zoë Kravitz. She both rescues the brothers and is rescued by them. This is a movie in which predicates can be both passive and active. The rescue is from a roadside Colorado bar (the skank keeps accumulating). The relationship that develops between her and Myles is the sweetest aspect of a movie that puts a premium on sourness. That is the taste of skank, isn’t it?
The Bakers use a lot of handheld camera, which sets a tone that’s as much emotional as visual. Daniel Casey’s screenplay (adapted from the brothers’ 2014 short, “Bag Man”) has echoes of Quentin Tarantino’s honey of a script for “True Romance ” (1993): Detroit, on the lam, heading west, a done-in dad (again we meet Dennis Hopper). Tarantino, for all his hopeless Tarantino-ness, is nonpareil for using words the way a dancer uses steps. The verbal choreography in “Kin” is pretty flat-footed. But the motorcycles — remember them? — are even cooler than the ray gun, and the Franco character’s fondness for Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” is truly hilarious. It’s a sign of the Bakers’ slyness that they didn’t use her “Raised on Robbery.” That would have fit better, but not fitting is what makes “Kin” the movie it is.
Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker. Written by Daniel Casey and the Bakers. Starring Myles Truitt, Jack Reynor, Zoë Kravitz, Dennis Quaid, James Franco, Carrie Coon. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 102 minutes. PG-13