Have you seen the 1989 film Next of Kin? If you have, I don’t expect a public acknowledgement. Just softly say to yourself “Yes, I have seen Next of Kin. Please blog about it.” I have, in fact, seen NOK, several times in fact. Understand that this is not a movie review. NOK is unreviewable with its wild cast of characters, Byzantine plot and acting that borders on hysteria. Yes, I love this movie. Allow me to explain why.
NOK stars, in no particular order: Patrick Swayze, Adam Baldwin, Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Liam Neeson, Ben Stiller and Michael J. freakin’-Pollard. I’m not making this up. There may not be a more diverse cast in the history of cinema. Pollard alone makes it worth watching. You know him–he’s the weird dude with the scrunched up face in Bonnie and Clyde.
Here’s the plot. Swayze (at his the peak of his Swayzeness) is a Chicago cop from Eastern Kentucky (Hazard, I think). Neeson and Paxton are his brothers. Paxton loses his job in the coal mines and moves to Chicago. He somehow crosses the Chicago mob headed by the guy who played the one-armed man in The Fugitive. Paxton gets murdered, and Swayze sets out to find the killer. Neeson, portraying “Briar,” heads to Chicago to exact Mountain Justice. He is disgusted by Swayze’s unwillingness to join in the blood feud. He moves into a sleazy hotel run by Pollard who twitches and shrugs through all his scenes like he’s mainlining Thorazine. Briar speaks with an accent which can only be described as “brain-damaged,” but I have to give him credit for trying. I’m sure it’s difficult to go from an Irish brogue to Eastern Kentuckian. Not since Edward G. Robinson played an Egyptian in The Ten Commandments has there been such a bizarre casting choice.
Anyway, Ben Stiller is the nephew of the head of the Mob (One-Armed Guy). Ben gets himself brutally murdered. Meanwhile, Briar is trying to find Bill Paxton’s killers, while Swayze is trying to stop him from being a vigilante. Helen Hunt is Swayze’s wife and teaches the cello. She frets a lot. There’s a lot of violence and other stuff. Briar is also murdered after being framed for killing Ben Stiller. Unbeknownst to the Mob, Briar has left instructions with Michael J. Pollard to call his relatives in Kentucky if something happens to him. Swayze then quits the police force to join in the blood feud. The Kentuckians show up in a bunch of trucks and a school bus. A battle takes place between the mountain men and the mob in a cemetery. Swayze goes off on the Mob with a crossbow. The mob is wiped out with some of them even being killed by a huge collection of deadly snakes on the school bus. Then the movie just kind of ends–happily, I guess, expect for Liam Neeson, Bill Paxton and Ben Stiller–and the Mob.
Why do I love this piece of cinematic tripe? Maybe it’s Liam Neeson, at what was surely the low point of his career, portraying an Appalachian backwoodsman. How did he establish a successful career after this? Then again, Helen Hunt won an Oscar after NOK. Perhaps it’s Ben Stiller in a decidedly non-comedic role playing a mobster. He also went on to great success. It could just be Swayze, beating and killing people when the dude was only about 5′ 7″, 145 pounds. Michael J. Pollard might have been the key. I envision the casting director saying: “What’s the name of the weird cat in Bonnie and Clyde? Wonder where he is these days?” He was probably working the hoot owl shift at a convenience store. Hell, he may have actually been working at that sleazy hotel.
Ok. I don’t know why I like NOK, but I do. I like to think that somewhere in Eastern Kentucky there is a family that would load up and head to Chicago and wipe out the Mob. That Michael J. Pollard works at a sleazy hotel somewhere. That Helen Hunt teaches the cello. That Ben Stiller is in the Mob. That Swayze is still alive and implausibly kicking ass somewhere right now. I don’t know. Maybe I just have no taste.