Movie Review - The Land

It's similar to Rick Famuyiwa's Dope (2015) but darker, not as comedic, more tragic. Instead of three inner-city kids who find themselves in possession of a lot of drugs, which prompt them to become drug dealers, here we have four kids. It's less diverse in that all four are boys and all four are straight. Instead of bikes, the main boys ride skateboards. Bicycles seem like too much for even these boys to afford. They come from impoverished backgrounds and just to survive, they've turned to crime, grand theft auto, and not the video game. Of course, one can add assault and battery to their list of charges because they carjack people by beating them in the head. Yet, we're supposed to feel sorry for them, and we do because as it turns out, these aren't bad kids.

Writer-director Steven Caple Jr. has made not just a version of Dope, but it's a version of John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood. Instead of Los Angeles, Caple focuses on the inner-city of Cleveland, Ohio. Aside from the weather and the general landscape, not much is different. Who Caple decides should have the most spotlight is slightly different.

Singleton had the only character with a strong black father with the most spotlight. That character is presented with the option of being pulled into gang violence and he walks away. The character who chooses the opposite, the character who uses gang violence to get revenge is the side character. Here, Caple does the reverse. The character who walks away from the violence is the side character and the character who embraces the violence is the one with the most spotlight.

Jorge Lendeborg Jr. stars as Cisco, the Latino teenager with that spotlight. His parents aren't in the picture. He's being raised by a white, drug-addicted diner owner called Uncle Steve. Also, staying with them is Steve's black prostitute girlfriend who attempts to molest Cisco. Cisco has many reasons for needing money and needing a way out of his situation. He and his friends consider a job at McDonald's, but when they come upon the drugs, they easily succumb to the temptation of fast cash through drug dealing.

Linda Emond (Julie & Julia and Indignation) co-stars as Momma, a white woman who runs a fruit stand that's like a little farmer's market. Yet, it's through her that the drugs are being trafficked. She employs black bikers, black thugs who ride motorcycles, as her enforcers. When Cisco steals some drugs, those drugs end up belonging to Momma. She is a calm but cold and calculating woman. She's ruthless as well, and it's a matter of time until she discovers that Cisco and his friends are the thieves.

For a good portion of Caple's film, he builds some good tension as the inevitable collision of Cisco and Momma nears. What Caple falters is the incident in the second act, which pushes Cisco into violence. Basically, one of his friends is killed in a drive-by shooting just as in Singleton's film. Unfortunately, the shooting doesn't have the emotional resonance as in Singleton's tour-de-force. Without that resonance, Cisco's actions and the consequences after in the third act don't hit as hard as they could have.

Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and brief nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.

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