Truman Gates (Patrick Swayze) is a cop in Chicago, but he doesn't hail from the Windy City originally, as he has a past as a Kentucky hillbilly, which is why tonight he is called out to see about one of his fellow country folk in the area who has gotten into a fight and is now holed up in a hotel room with a gun, unwilling to come out. But Truman knows the ways of his compatriots, and manages to talk him down and into the streets where he is arrested - though he does not react well when one of his colleagues punches the miscreant. After all, the hill folk have to stick together...
The most notable aspect of Next of Kin these days is the cast, packed full of recognisable faces of various generations and derivations, so in that respect it's interesting to see them interact - it would be hard to envisage them all getting together to make this film even ten years later, although in Swayze's case it would have been because he was no longer headlining high profile movies, not that he wasn't still famous, as watching Dirty Dancing a hundred times can make an actor stick in the memory of a certain kind of fan. It would be nice to say that here everyone pulled their weight and made a favourable impression.
It would be nice to say that, but while the fault wasn't with the actors, the fact remained this took itself far too seriously to be much fun, and all its leaden dialogue over how families should stay together through thick and thin tended to sap the energy from the piece. John Irvin's direction, as if he was making a Godfather movie rather than some city versus country action flick, was not much help in lifting the mood, so much so that it wasn't until the final ten minutes that the film hit its groove and offered what we wanted to see all along. That was in spite of Liam Neeson showing up as Truman's brother Briar, armed to the teeth and wanting revenge for the murder of his sibling.
Nope, Truman wasn't killed, it was his other brother Gerald who was shot, played by Bill Paxton in a "Why did I bother turning up?" type role as he only has a couple of scenes, one complaining about why he ever came to Chicago, the other where tries to escape a Mob hit led by Adam Baldwin's Joey Rossellini, a low life hood looking to flex his muscles and dominate the pinball and slot machine racket. Rossellini is actually an embarrassment of sorts to his boss John Isabella (Andreas Katsulas of Babylon 5 fame), for he wishes to go legit, or as legit as he can get, so has employed his financially-minded son Lawrence (Ben Stiller!) to run that side of the business, much to Rossellini's disgust. The parallels between the gangster family and the hillbilly family are what should concern us here.
Which is all very well, but if you thought you'd signed on for an action movie then found most of the running time taken up with emoting then you'd feel shortchanged, and so it was for audiences back in 1989 who wanted to see a Road House style Swayze movie and got something a lot more moping and morose. Helen Hunt, some years away from her Oscar, was Truman's wife, simply present to be menaced in one sequence to force her husband to give back his badge and go rogue, although Briar's behaviour has something to do with that as well. As you might have guessed, the star spotting aspect was the most notable part - that is until we reach the grand finale, where all of a sudden things kick into high gear and you get what you came for as Truman and his brethren have a showdown with Rossellini and his mobsters in a graveyard: basically guns versus bows and arrows, flying hatchets, and, er, snakes (huh?), suggesting no matter how gravely this approached its subject, the air of the stereotype was not far away. Music by Jack Nitzsche.