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Next of Kin Blu-ray ReviewChris Rebholz
Raised in the hills of Kentucky, Truman Gates (Patrick Swayze) has a special way of dealing with suspects while making his rounds as a detective in Chicago. Married to violinist Jessie (Helen Hunt) and about to become a father for the first time, Truman finds the strain of family consuming his thoughts. Hoping to convince his little brother, Gerald (Bill Paxton), to leave the big city and return home to a simpler life in Kentucky, to the protection of sibling Briar (Liam Neeson), Truman's pleas are met with resistance. When tragedy strikes and Gerald is murdered by reckless mob enforcer Joey Rossellini (Adam Baldwin), Truman is faced with the inevitable, soon confronted with Briar's vengeance-fueled presence in Chicago. With his mob family, including boss Papajohn Isabella (Andreas Katsulas) and his son Lawrence (Ben Stiller), encroaching on his plans for underworld rule, Joey looks to assert control with blunt force, eventually coming up against Truman's investigation and Briar's plans for revenge. Caught between backwater justice and his own duties as a cop, Truman greets an impossible situation of familial duty while commencing a blood feud with the mafia.
The script deserves some praise for elevating "Next of Kin" with mild characterizations. While flatly played by Baldwin (completely unbelievable as a Italian goon), Joey makes an impression due to the authenticity of his frustration, watching Papajohn groom his educated son for control of the family, reducing the killer's role in the arrangement of Isabella's legit business, selling vending and gaming machines. While the subplot isn't fluffed to satisfaction, it's the thought that counts, providing motivation to a typical villain role, capturing Joey's irritation with Lawrence and his need to make himself felt in the organization, a carelessness that's easily understood. The story also scores with its cultural foundation, using the People of the Earth gimmick to infuse "Next of Kin" with personality and tradition, keeping Truman a complex figure of doubt as a stymied Chicago cop with a clear understanding that Kentucky vengeance is more apt to get the job done. There's not enough torment in the character to fully flesh out the conflict dividing the two worlds, but director John Irvin dutifully creates a contrast between the bitter, suffocating city streets and Briar's countrified kingdom, where the Gates family collects to greet their estranged brother and plan their revenge, even requesting a fiddlin' session with Jessie.
Caricatures are certainly obvious, yet the broad Kentucky strokes are gracefully handled by Neeson and Swayze, generating an authentic brotherly dynamic that's peppered with tilted accents and idioms. The men are entertaining to watch, with Neeson the unshowered, backwoods Batman, swooping into Chicago on a quest to weed out Gerald's killer, tormenting the Isabella family until they surrender. Successfully swallowing his natural Irish lilt, Neeson carries enough stoicism and brute force to make an impression. Being the star of the show, Swayze has more to do, and he executes the role with expected verve, strumming the family honor chord with conviction. "Next of Kin" doesn't boil over as an actioner, keeping the picture focused more on plans of punishment over any extraordinary stunt sequences, leaving Swayze to outwardly emote like a champ. However, a few punch-happy moments remain, including a barroom family therapy session between Truman and Briar, who pound each other as a method of communication, reinforcing the feral nature of the brothers as they work out their differences.
It's even more fun to watch on Blu-ray, as the video enhances the fisticuffs as well as the lush beauty of Kentucky. The audio, while good, doesn't offer much but that's mainly due to the lackluster score. Unfortunately there are no bonus features to speak of. It would have been nice to see something from the actors; discussing working together on this film, especially considering Swayze's passing.
While Next of Kin certainly isn't Shakespeare in the Park, it does provide a lot of enjoyment when watching it. Mostly due to the youth and vigor of its cast; a worthwhile viewing if ever you find yourself in the mood to get your "Swayze" on.
Cast: Patrick Swayze, Adam Baldwin, Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Liam Neeson
Directed by: John Irvin
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 108 minutes
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
When Chris was but a wee lad growing up in the slums of suburban New Jersey, he happened to rent a little movie called Tron. Then his head exploded. It was at the moment that he realized that he loved movies, and since then Chris has made it a habit of renting movies, going to the movies, discussing his favorite movies, and anything else in between when it comes to that genre. It has been Chris’s passion and hobby for years now and will be for years to come.
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