THE LAND, action/adventure, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles
The Land takes place on the meaner streets of Cleveland, where Cisco and his friends, Junior, Patty Cake, and Boobie, are about to embark on one of their last summer vacations from high school. They are on the shop track, ambivalent about buckling down to graduate as certified welders and auto mechanics. All they want to do is skateboard, but they don’t have the money to enter competitions, which is the only way to get sponsored — and, in turn, they are sure — to get rich and famous. They’re involved in not-so-low-level car theft, with Cisco as the ringleader. Stumbling into possession of a large amount of MDMA (aka “molly”) presents the crew with a coming-of-age dilemma wrapped in an identity crisis. Are they skaters who need to make a little cash, or are they drug dealers?
The Land could be viewed as a retread of films about at-risk youth and gang life, like Boyz N the Hood. The boys’ adventure tale aspect of the movie seems more accurately to take its cue from The Warriors, the 1979 cult classic about New York City gangs, though this film is not nearly as campy and contrived. Written and directed by Steven Caple Jr., with a soundtrack by Nas and Erykah Badu, The Land is grittily realistic in its depiction of the boys’ impoverished home lives, which range from challenging to depraved. Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron) is a teenaged father living with his girlfriend’s family, while the parents of Boobie (Ezri Walker) work long hours on opposite shifts, leaving him mostly alone — and lonely. Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) lives in a tenement apartment above a hot-dog stand with his de facto stepfather, Uncle Steve (Kim Coates, in the movie’s true standout performance), and Steve’s junkie girlfriend, Turquoise (Badu). He spends a lot of nights with Junior (Moises Arias) at his apartment, soaking in as much motherly affection as he can from Junior’s mom, Stacey (Nadia Simms), who obviously loves her kids and worries about Cisco, too. There is no mystery as to why Cisco makes the choices he does. All of his relationships are complicated and there’s no place to call home. He doesn’t even have a bed.
A motorcycle gang operates at the behest of a local drug kingpin named Momma (Linda Edmond), and the entire movie takes place in a sort of hip-hop underground of skateboard competition after-parties. There are numerous neighborhood characters, such as a kind convenience store clerk and a duplicitous hippie meth head. In this environment, the boys are antiheroes, just trying to get enough money to buy pancake mix and diapers, until a taste of wealth — and of having criminals after them — tests the bonds of friendship in the face of their desperate need for self-preservation. — Jennifer Levin
Where the boys are: seated, left to right, Ezri Walker, Moises Arias, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.; lying down, Rafi Gavron