Thursday, September 12, 2019

"Next of Kin" - Swayze and Neeson Take on the Mob, Appalachian Style!

*I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie, so...SPOILERS.

I watched the documentary about Patrick Swayze that ran on the Paramount Network a few weeks back and decided to revisit one of my Swayze movies. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan, but I do like most of his films. But off the top of my head, I only own Road House, Next of Kin, and Donnie Darko, and let’s face it, Darko isn’t exactly a Swayze movie. Road House has been made fun of and/or celebrated enough already (although I will still write about it eventually), so I went with Next of Kin, a forgotten Swayze movie about revenge and the struggle between the law and family loyalty. The film is notable for me because my father used to call me Briar during my college years, due to my resemblance to Liam Neeson in this film. It’s not because I’m tall or even look like Neeson; it was because I had a scraggly Appalachian-y beard, wore an old baseball cap, and had a coat very similar to Briar’s. In fact, I still kind of dress like that, but my beard is a bit better these days. Anyway, that’s the weird reason why I connect with this movie.

Neeson and Swayze: Kickin’ Ass, Appalachian-style!

Next of Kin tells a fairly basic story about two very different worlds: the mobbed up streets of Chicago and the lawless hills of Appalachia. Patrick Swayze and Liam Neeson are brothers, torn apart over their desire to steer their younger brother, Bill Paxton, along what they see is the right path. When Paxton is killed in Chicago by a mobster, Neeson heads to Chicago to get revenge because he doesn’t think Swayze’s devotion to being a cop will allow him to get true justice for their brother.

That set up allows for plenty of interesting story beats, but the best of them is the rivalry between Swayze and Neeson. Their scenes together are by far the best moments of the film. They argue a lot, but when they share a moment (like when Swayze tells him that Neeson is going to be an uncle) they truly come across as brothers. It makes their fight scene in the bar that much more meaningful...and funny. Since they’re brothers, any fight between them, while very violent, has a hint of humor because you can imagine that this is probably the hundredth time they’ve fought. 

The movie gains some much needed momentum when Swayze and Neeson finally decide to work together. Unfortunately that doesn’t last very long. Swayze goes out on his own, and Neeson goes after the mobsters by himself, dying in the process.

Neeson’s death is the biggest misstep of the film. There is already one dead brother, why add another? I know it prompts the rest of the family to come up to Chicago, but that whole sequence was unnecessary, in my opinion (more on that in the next section). The ending of the movie would have been so much better if it was Swayze and Neeson taking on the mob by themselves. 

You can’t fault the filmmakers for not including Neeson more in the film. In hindsight, of course a team-up of Neeson and Swayze would be amazing. But Neeson wasn’t well-known at the time, and he wouldn’t be known as an action star until after Swayze’s illness and death. As it is, Next of Kin at least gives us a glimpse of these two working together. And when you’re dealing with two actors this awesome, a glimpse can be enough.

Why Is There a School Bus Full of Snakes in This Movie?

The big action set piece of the film involves all the hill people going to Chicago to avenge Liam Neeson’s death. It is by far the silliest part of the film, and the sequence is largely played for laughs. It’s all a bit unnecessary, especially since it would have been better if the final confrontation was between the mob and Swayze and Neeson. 

Some of it is okay, like the guy throwing the hatchets and the guy using a bow and arrow. Then it gets a little silly with the one dude using dogs to chase down some mobsters. But it ventures into flat out stupid territory when the school bus full of snakes shows up.

Let’s break this down. First off, I don’t recall snake-handling being an Appalachian thing. I’m from southern Indiana, so I live a couple minutes away from Kentucky. So I’m in the general vicinity of the people in this movie, even if the eastern Kentucky they are from is hours from my location. The point is, snakes are not a prominent part of that culture, from what I know. There’s the occasional redneck snake church, but the snakes in Next of Kin are not used for religious purposes. 

Next, why take the school bus of snakes all the way up to Chicago? It’s not an ideal vehicle for that long of a trip. And why didn’t the other hill people tell him to stay home for this one? 

Lastly, and most importantly, what did the snakes accomplish? The only thing that happens is a gangster gets locked in the bus with the snakes. We don’t see the snakes bite him or anything; he just freaks out. So the snake guy drove a busful of snakes about ten hours away to scare one mobster. That’s a bit of overkill, isn’t it? Even if the snakes were featured more prominently in the plan, how much damage could they have done? 

I suppose my biggest issue with the school bus full of snakes is that it’s entirely included for laughs. Next of Kin isn’t humorless, but this is still a fairly serious movie about murder and revenge. The goofiness of the snake bus at the end takes away from that a bit. I mean, Neeson dies, so we get a bus of snakes instead. That is not a fair trade. Let me finish by making that clear: a Swayze/Neeson team-up is better than a school bus full of snakes.

Random Thoughts 

The case for the DVD mentions a pre-Twister Bill Paxton. That kind of marketing cracks me up. So someone is on the fence about buying this movie, so they read the case; does that info put them over the edge? Hey, this movie also has a pre-Heavyweights Ben Stiller! And a fellow pre-Twister Helen Hunt! And don’t forget about pre-Firefly Adam Baldwin! Man, I have to buy this movie featuring all these actors before their better-known works!

I don't know why exactly, but I love how cities are portrayed in late '80s / early '90s movies. They are absolute hellholes, but they appear lived in and more realistic than they do in newer movies.

Ted Levine! Makes me think of an Appalachian Buffalo Bob...that's a horrifying thought. 

Hey look, it's pre-Twister Bill Paxton!

Swayze's hair is a thing of beauty, especially when he fancies it up for a violin recital.

Ben Stiller had an underrated early career as a punchable twerp.

Something tells me that knife Adam Baldwin takes off of Paxton, that the camera lingers on for ten seconds, is going to factor into the story later.

Adam Baldwin gives a lovely speech offending every demographic in the country, including hillbillies. 

I know it's meant as a memorial, but that picture of Paxton at his graduation is hilarious.

I like the random hillbilly moments showcased when Swayze goes home: axe throwing, deer head in the fridge, random dude playing with a snake, little kids practicing with a bow and arrow, etc.

Those pictures of Briar and Gerald hanging out that Swayze sees in Briar', I wonder how those were made. Did Neeson and Paxton just hang out on a farm drinking beer one day while someone took candids? I sure hope so.

"Okay, fellow criminals, let's get in the most blatant mob car of all time and follow this cop without attempting to disguise ourselves at all!"

There are some weird hotels in this movie. The one at the beginning was "Men Only," and the one Briar stays at is also only for men and doesn't allow food in the rooms. Also, why not just have Briar stay at the place from the beginning? That way you could establish the Harold character earlier, since he ends up being such a friend to the hill folk.

Adam Baldwin is such a fucking prick in this movie. I hate him more each time he speaks, which is a credit to his performance. 

Baldwin calling the head mobster "Papa John" is distracting. If that pizza chain was more prominent back then, surely they would have changed it.

The song about brothers playing while Briar is in lockup is a bit on the nose.

All of this over a vending machine company…

Is this movie sponsored by Old Style?

Why kill Ben Stiller off camera? And why did they bring the fuck-up mobster along?

Holy shit, I just realized the dude with the snake is the "Are you kidding?!" guy from Road House.

"Finally I just said, 'Fuck it,' and shot him."

Why do the mob guys like Chinese food so much?

Swayze: "Yo." *Throws knife directly into goon's heart as he turns around.

So did he resign at the end? To do what exactly? I know his job is dangerous, but quitting your job right when your wife gets pregnant is stupid. Hell, what am I talking about? This is Swayze. He'll figure something out. 


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