Warner Bros. // 1989 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // July 25th, 2012
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
It's amazing just how many of the actors in the 1989 action thriller Next of Kin went on to bigger and better things, and how little the possibility of that is suggested by the movie.
With a cast that includes Patrick Swayze (the movie's lead, and the biggest star at the time), Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Adam Baldwin, Liam Neeson and Ben Stiller, the main reason to watch Next of Kin is to spot so many future stars early in their careers. Every couple of minutes, a new and recognizable face pops up to hold one's interest. That's a good thing, because everything else about the movie is familiar at best, generic at worst.
Swayze stars as Truman Gates, an Appalachian working as a police officer in Chicago. When his brother (Paxton) is killed by mobsters, it causes a split in the Gates family: Truman wants to catch the murderers through legal channels, while his brother, Briar (Neeson), is out for "mountain justice." Briar comes to Chicago and stirs up trouble with the mobsters while Truman tries to keep him safe. Unfortunately, the Gates boys and the mob are on a collision course with death, and not everyone's going to make it out alive.
Next of Kin is a mess. It has an ineffectual hero at its center, constantly upstaged by his much more proactive brother. This isn't just a function of the plot; Swayze disappears off the screen, while Neeson commands every scene he's in -- even if the character he's playing is a little ridiculous. The mobster characters (which include Baldwin and a very young Ben Stiller) are played so cartoonishly and for laughs so often that it's impossible to see them as any kind of credible threat. Their performances mix badly with the film's overall tone, too, which is usually grim and serious and lacking in any kind of energy. The Chicago atmosphere is decent (though 1989 must have been the year there was a dry ice outbreak in the Windy City; I live here, and I don't remember it), but the city has been photographed better on many occasions. There's such a neat idea at the center -- Appalachian hillbillies in a blood feud with the Chicago mafia -- but it's hardly explored in any compelling way. Even when that conflict is at its most literal, as the mountain people and the gangsters have a shootout in a cemetery, it doesn't feel like the movie finally delivering on its promise. It feels silly.
With some of their recent Blu-ray releases of catalog titles, we're beginning to see studios slip into some of the bad habits they demonstrated with DVD, as it morphed from technological tops to just-above-VHS in a matter of years. Having said that, Next of Kin certainly looks the best it ever has with this release, and fans of the movie who have felt slighted for years (I don't believe it ever even received a real widescreen transfer) should be at least satisfied with the results. The movie appears in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in full 1080p HD, but that's where things get somewhat inconsistent. Colors are naturalistic but on the muted side and detail is reasonably good throughout, but the level of grain changes almost from one scene to the next. Some sequences (particularly the darker ones) are swirling with heavy noise, while some others appear to have been retouched with DNR and have a flat, waxy feel. The transfer is not a disaster, and, for a catalog title, it's decent. We've just come to expect so much more from the format.
The same goes for the disc's audio, for which only a lossless two-channel stereo track has been offered. The dialogue is mostly clear, but the rest of the sound in the movie suffers. Separation is mostly nonexistent and there is little to no dimensionality in the rear or surround channels. Worse still is that all of the music and effects exist on pretty much the same hollow, tinny plane. It's the kind of audio track that only gets the job done and nothing more. There are no bonus features whatsoever included on the disc.
So, with uneven A/V properties and no bonus content, you've got to really be a fan of Next of Kin to want to invest in this Blu-ray. On the positive side, Warner Bros. is good about keeping the price point down on these catalog titles; on the negative, it appears that their investment matches the return. Next of Kin is, at best, a late-night time waster on HBO -- a chance to see a lot of famous actors before they were big stars and not a whole lot else.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R