Next of Kin (1989) – Review

2 Stars

Next of Kin has the feel of a forgotten Steven Seagal picture. It has all the usual motifs that accompany the WB/Seagal pairings from that era, a cop with revenge on his mind, a loner working on the force but treated as an outsider due to his beliefs, and the presence of the mafia. However, Next of Kin stars Patrick Swayze, who sports the Seagal-like ponytail, as Tucker Gates, a hill-billy turned Chicago detective. When his younger brother (Bill Paxton), is murdered, Tucker’s older brother, Briar (Liam Neeson), arrives from back home to carry out revenge Kentucky-style. Swayze is caught in the middle between upholding society’s law and siding with his family.

The Mafia bosses responsible for the murder is played by, a young Ben Stiller, who looks like a kid that has not grown into his features yet, and Adam Baldwin, the intimidating and hyper aggressive enforcer. Patrick Swayze who had become a pop culture icon with his hammy turn in the cult classic Road House, is sorely miscast here and Liam Neeson, struggling to disguise a Irish accent, isn’t much better. Next of Kin is really a buddy cop movie, this time the rogue partner is a redneck brother out for vengeance. The cop and his brother/sidekick must crack the case while forming an uneasy alliance in the process. Of course this causes both to see the error of their misguided ways and better their relationship with each other. Not before engaging in a fist fight while handcuffed together, that is the high point of originality in this absolutely mediocre hillbillies vs mafia city slickers tale.

This is a well-crafted and competent looking film, but it never is able to create a moment of suspense or excitement. The picture is so formulaic that at times it feels like we are waiting for the screenplay to catch up with what we already can anticipate happening. The film closely follows the conventions of the action genre so that the outcome of the story is predictable from the outset. However, fans of this type of 1980s cop-thriller will appreciate the conclusion, in which a group of hard-edged hill people fight the mob with everything from crossbows to rattlesnakes. During the final shoot out that takes place in a cemetery, the film becomes a quasi horror picture of sorts. That is appropriate with how the filmmakers treat the Liam Neeson character, he is damn near supernatural. There are at least three different instances in which, Briar does something that is beyond the human physical capacity. Yes, all movies require suspension of disbelief, but take for example; the scene in which, Nesson’s character opens a gate as two guard dogs rush him. The very next shot, is of him on the opposite side of the fence, there is a shot missing there.

Next of Kin clumsily, side steps the racial issues it inadvertently raises, portraying the country folk as god-fearing, open minded people. While at the same time, the Italian mafia goons are racist, heathen thugs. Just in case we forget who the bad guys are. One of the most absurd moments in a movie stocked with such, is when all the men in, the Gates family arm themselves and leave for Chicago. Each diligently embracing a loved one before they head out for war. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything to recommend, I like Swayze but here he floats through the movie with a lost expression.

Director: John Irvin
Stars: Patrick Swayze, Liam Neeson, Ben Stiller

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