|Next of Kin|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 20 October 1998|
'Next of Kin' is kind of a hoot. Most of Michael Jenning's script is by the numbers, but it's so well cast and directed by John Irvin with such a sense of style and an eye for small details that it adds up to acceptable entertainment.
Patrick Swayze stars as Truman Gates, an Appalachian native who has become a Chicago police officer, much to the disgust of his big brother Briar (Liam Neeson), who has proudly remained in the hills. When their younger brother (Bill Paxton, who's worth watching in his few scenes) is murdered by a local mobster, Briar comes to the big city, intent on avenging the death in down-home tradition. Truman is equally determined to bring the guilty party to justice the legal way.
The brotherly quarreling over how to handle the murder feels like just another variation on buddy-cop clashes. There's the potential for real drama in the notion that Truman actually longs to take the law into his own hands as Briar would have him do, but the writing doesn't get beyond the basics of this concept. On the other hand, Swayze and Neeson play the hell out of their characters, making them consistently compelling (even if Neeson's accent heads for Ireland now and then). Bonus casting includes Helen Hunt as Truman's worried wife, Andreas Katsulas as a mob boss and a very young-looking Ben Stiller as the boss's nebbishy son.
Director Irvin and his film crew take pains to make 'Next of Kin' look great at all times, from the gorgeous brown/gray mist enshrouding a train pulling into a tiny mountain station in Chapter 6 to the complementary shimmer of leaves and flashlight beams in Chapter 29. Given the filmmakers' attention to the look of the film, it's a double shame that the DVD has been released full-frame, rather than letterboxed in its original aspect ratio. The sound here fares better, retaining original grace notes like the substitution of the ambient rumble of an elevated train for suspenseful music in Chapter 17 (which also contains some fine, resonant gunshot sound effects and impressive stunt jumps).
Jack Nitzsche's musical score gets into the spirit of things as well from the opening credits onward, morphing a country fiddle tune over a rural montage into a rock/blues rendition of the same piece as we find ourselves in the rain-slick streets of Chicago. The plot's something we've seen many times before, but any action flick that starts out with the playful twang of a kazoo on the soundtrack can't be all bad.