Next of Kin

December 9, 2010

Kinfolk: Bill Paxton, Patrick Swayze, Liam Neeson

Patrick Swayze has been riding the unexpected success of Dirty Dancing for two years now, which is more than can be said for the studio that produced the film (Vestron Pictures went belly-up some months ago). A follow-up, Road House, was a modern Western that horrified critics and didn’t charm Swayze’s female fans; it faded quietly from screens earlier this summer. (I still count it as one of the year’s guiltier pleasures.)

The new one, Next of Kin, is another action movie, toned down a bit, but unlikely to provide another hit. Swayze puts on an accent for this outing: He’s a good ol’ boy from Kentucky, transplanted to Chicago and working as a cop. When his little brother is killed, apparently by members of the Mafia, Swayze has to mollify his enraged kinfolk and settle the score with the mob.

This isn’t easy, for as Swayze learns when his visits home, all of his relatives are sitting around holding their Bibles, pronouncing in low tones that passage about an eye for an eye. In particular, he has to stop his brother (Irish actor Liam Neeson, who really had to put on an accent) from going to Chicago with a sawed-off shotgun and laying waste to people.

Which, in fact, is what his brother does. There is a side plot amongst the bad guys, in which the trigger man (Adam Baldwin) is setting up the son (Ben Stiller) of the Mafia don. These threads come together in a big shoot-out, featuring not only guns but also bows and arrows, in a Windy City cemetery.

Director John Irvin seems frustrated about how to make the material work. He labors over some lighthearted, loving moments between Swayze and his wife (Helen Hunt), but these fall flat. (She is a concert violinist, although Swayze persists in calling the instrument a fiddle.) Then there’s some peculiar low comedy surrounding a couple of the mob henchmen, which suggests that a life of crime is often a barrel of laughs.

Otherwise, characters say the usual things: “When you set up my brother, you forgot to kill me.” Things like that. Swayze delivers these lines with his customary denseness; he always seems to be a step behind everybody else in the movie. Perhaps that’s the secret of his appeal.

Originally published in the Herald on October 27, 1989. 

Next of Kin is one of those 80s pictures that vanished from sight and mind very quickly. And yet: Neeson, Helen Hunt, and Ben Stiller as a mob boss’s son? I have no memory of that whatsoever. Maybe I’m a little hard on Swayze here; he had a real niceness on screen; the curious thing was how he floundered to find fitting vehicles after hitting the Dirty Dancing gusher. Still, there’s Point Break and the deranged Road House and To Wong Foo—the latter a very precise comic performance.