*** Originally published on Beyond the Marquee, 07/28/12 ***
What’s up, Doc? This afternoon, I decided to have some good ol’ fashioned fried chicken for lunch. I don’t eat it that often… maybe once a year and it wasn’t anything special; from the grocery store, not KFC or Popeye’s. Hell, I don’t even know what’s special about KFC or Popeye’s. Do people in Kentucky or Louisiana make better chicken or eat it more often than the folks in, say, Missouri? I don’t even really care about the state-specifics, but I do know that I turn into a big, greasy, sticky, finger-lickin’ Southern gentleman when I’m eating the stuff. It’s like sense memory from another life or maybe I just watch too many commercials. Either way, it’s comfort food that makes you feel good as it knocks some years off of your life. So it just felt right to pop in the *new* Blu-Ray release of 1989′s Next of Kin (now available from Warner Home Video). With a gallon of oil dripping from my chin, I was ready to watch Patrick Swayze and his Good ‘Ol Boys do some harm on the Chicago underworld.
Truman Gates (the late, great Patrick Swayze), raised in the mountains of Kentucky, has made a nice life for himself as a police officer in the Windy City. When his younger brother Gerald (Bill Paxton) finds himself unemployed, Truman brings him out to Chicago to find work as a truck driver. One night, Gerald’s rig is hijacked by some mobsters. After pulling a knife in self-defense, Gerald is killed by the Capo’s maniac nephew Joey Rosselini (Adam Baldwin). Interestingly enough, the boss’s name is John Isabella, so I guess this is technically the “Isabella-Rosselini” crime family. Truman vows to bring his brother’s killer to justice, but justice just isn’t enough for the Gates clan. Upon returning to Kentucky for the funeral, Truman learns that his older brother, Briar (Liam Neeson), has called a “blood feud” on the mob. Ready to exact his own brand of rural justice, Briar heads out to Chicago looking for revenge. Finding himself torn between his roots and his sworn duty to uphold the law, Truman must find the killer before his brother and “three counties of kin” start a war with the Cosa Nostra.
Next of Kin came out the same year as Swayze’s country classic Road House. While there isn’t as much action as that film (and no Sam Elliot, either), there is a similar vibe. Swayze was a master of the rough around the edges, mullet sporting, cool-as-ice brawler-type who could kick some serious ass, then return home to have dinner with his lady. You couldn’t help but admire him and yet, his down-to-Earth demeanor kept him accessible. Truman is the kind of guy you want to have a beer with, the kind of everyman you can relate to on some level, so when he loses his brother you feel his pain. When he wants to take down the bad guys, so do you. The ability to make that kind of connection with the audience is what makes a star and Swayze did it effortlessly – that’s where Next of Kin is at its strongest. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said so much about his co-stars. Liam Neeson speaks with such a ridiculous Southern accent, you can’t take it any more seriously than Brad Pitt’s Irish accent in The Devil’s Own. To see this wiry bumpkin named “Briar” walking around talking like something out of The Little Rascals is laugh-out-loud bad. Adam Baldwin and Ben Stiller (playing Joey’s cousin Lawrence Isabella) act well enough, but just don’t have the gritty Chicago gangster feel they should. Not that I want to play into stereotypes, but all of the baddies feel too anti-septic for the scum they’re portraying. I prefer my villains to have an air of darkness to them, not like they just came from auditioning for Good Will Hunting.
Despite some blatant miscasting, occasionally corny lines and some God-awful soundtrack choices (many of which involve a fiddle), the film is a surprisingly effective vigilante picture. Even when you’re laughing at the cheesier moments, it’s still good ’80s fun. I’d certainly love to see WB remake this with more action, playing up the hillbilly-in-the-city aspect – like a backwoods MacGyver or the Ewoks storming Chicago. Though judging by the film’s Blu-Ray treatment, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
The disc is pretty much bare-bones. The menu is a static image of the box cover and there are no extras aside from the standard Spanish soundtrack and multi-language subtitle options. The image quality is sharp and clean with the right amount of film grain (impressive for a catalogue title), but the colors are washed out. Faces are pink and sweeping Kentucky landscapes appear muted, though on the plus side, blacks are dark and rich making the city at night scenes look really good. That said, it’s a 23 year old film that barely turned a profit in theaters, so it’s kind of amazing the picture quality is as good as it is. The sound is more than adequate with a nice DTS HD-MA 2.0 mix. Music and ambient sounds such as rainfall and crickets feel spacious with great stereo effect. While dialogue is clear and easy to understand, it does come across a bit tinny now and again.
With extras on the disc I’d have rounded upwards, but I have to give this one 2 out of 4 devils. Next of Kin is that lost gem of a film that’s ideal for a “guy’s movie” night or a Swayze Double-Feature (with Road House!!!) It hasn’t aged badly, but it’s certainly not destined for any AFI top 100 lists, either. I mean, it’s hillbillies vs. gangsters – even at its worst, that concept is pretty amazing. Just know that you’re dishing up the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. You might hate yourself for finding it so satisfying, but you’ll never miss the hour and 48 minutes it took off of your life.
Or more if you’re eating buttered popcorn.