Only now does it occur to me... that NEXT OF KIN ('89)––which is not to be confused with Atom Egoyan's debut feature, NEXT OF KIN ('84), an excellent arthouse tract about found family––should just be a run-of-the-mill, direct-to-video hillbilly-sploitation flick starring, at best, a Chuck Norris or a Michael Dudikoff. However, in a spot of brilliant work by a trio of casting directors with an eye for ensemble [Shelley Andreas (MIDNIGHT RUN, CHILD'S PLAY, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF), Jane Alderman (CANDYMAN, THE COLOR OF MONEY), and Mindy Marin (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, MYSTERY MEN, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE–FALLOUT)], they've assembled a well-rounded troupe who are somehow capable of elevating a film which was surely pitched as a "redneck revenge" thriller.
For starters, the lead is Patrick Swayze, who lends genuine sincerity and sensitivity to a part that's about as well-written as the Chuck Norris role in INVASION USA. As a tuff Chicago cop from a Kentucky holler who dresses like a Wild West lawman and has a mullet which sometimes masquerades as a ponytail, you could say that Swayze must animate a character with "not enough" and "perhaps too much" to work with.
He displays both the pathos of GHOST and the hot-blooded fervency of RED DAWN, as well as a large helping of "dignity-in-the-face-of-kitsch" which he demonstrated so well in ROAD HOUSE (which had come out earlier that year).
This is one of those films which acts as if "hillbillies" are the most persecuted minority in the United States, a quality which certainly elevates its paracinematic value, at the very least.
The "hillbilly wacko" in question is the excellent Ted Levine––"Buffalo Bill" in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS––who decides to turn his single scene into a craft workshop/an audition for the next Sam Shepard play.
Next, we have Helen Hunt playing one of only four named female characters, and the only one to deliver more than three lines. She plays Swayze's refined, concert violinist girlfriend, a sitcom-style development which is never properly mined for its inherent highbrow vs. lowbrow comedy value.
Her character only really exists to be threatened by mobsters and therefore unleash Swayze's ire, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Nonetheless, she does an excellent job with the material, considering, and gets to work alongside her eventual TWISTER costar...
Paxton plays Swayze's little brother, another Kentucky transplant living in the big city. He's not in the movie for very long, since his murder (at the hands of mobsters) is the inciting incident of the movie. He does that likably nutty "Paxton thing" and the bulk of his performance is contained in a scene wherein he discusses rap music with a black co-worker.
Truly a moment for the annals of film history. The mobsters in question are also well cast––
On the left is baby Ben Stiller as the Don's nerdy son who is dragged along for the murderous ride. In the center is Andreas Katsulas (THE FUGITIVE, EXECUTIVE DECISION) who plays the Don. On the right is Adam Baldwin (FIREFLY, "Animal Mother" in FULL METAL JACKET), who plays a gleefully murderous psychopath and the principal villain of the picture. Sorta strange to see Stiller in the 1980s, and in a serious role,
but he gives it the proper "rich kid twerpitude" as well as some degree of childish vulnerability.
Paxton's murder brings the third brother, "Briar," to town, the eldest, who never forsook his Kentucky identity and is only coming to Chicago for revenge purposes. It's Liam Neeson!
He brings the proper gravity and badassery, but boy, he can't seem to lose that Irish accent.
Being as this predates even DARKMAN, this feels like the ur-Badass role which has defined the latter-half of Neeson's career. There's a great scene where, in order to intimidate some mobsters, he shoots up a bunch of pinball machines.
Check out Gorgar, over there
BONNIE AND CLYDE's Michael J. Pollard shows up in a weirdly delicate performance as a "flophouse owner sympathetic to Neeson's cause."
This is the sort of thing you really don't expect in a movie like this. He pounds a lot of Old Styles, too, which reminds us again that this film is set in Chicago, like every other '80s movie.
Anyway, the whole thing ends with a Swayze vs. Mobsters showdown in a graveyard where Swayze wields a bow and arrow like he's John Rambo.
In all, this is way more watchable than it has any right to be, and due to the nature of its success, I can't think of anyone to thank beyond the casting directors. So... thanks!