The Land

**1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Land - four teenage boys devote their summer to escaping the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, by pursuing a dream life of professional skateboarding. But when they get caught in the web of the local queenpin, their motley brotherhood is tested, threatening to make this summer their last.
"Caple and his cinematographer Steven Holleran definitely get the look even if the story doesn't quite deliver."

It's all going on in Steve Caple Jr's debut The Land, from a wordy script to directorial flourishes and yet, despite its energy, it suffers from a lack of originality in terms of story and flimsy characters. We've met these teenagers before, though perhaps not in Cleveland - The Land in street parlance. Life has dealt them a fat hand of nothing, so their street crew has become their surrogate family.

The only option Cisco (Jorge Lendeberg Jr) sees as offering a viable future is to become a skateboard pro. Certainly he's got the moves, practising with his pals Junior (Moises Arias), Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron) and Boobie (Ezri Walker), the only problem being the same one they face over everything - a lack of cash. As one of them notes: "Everybody's doing something to get ahead." And in their case, this means a bit of carjacking in the evenings, using their boards to befuddle drivers before stealing their ride and taking it to the local chop shop, after stripping it of anything valuable, of course. Valuable is one thing but when their latest haul includes a bag of MDMA, it's easy to see where the temptation will lead.

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Cisco convinces the crew to sell the drugs, which means they are soon on the radar of local Queenpin Momma (Linda Emond). There's the kernel of something interesting about what might drive this middle-class woman, who uses an organic market stall as a front, to embrace a life of crime but Caple doesn't want to hang around - unless that means he's shooting slow-motion shots of the kids' skateboard tricks. Momma has an entire subplot of her own that might work in a TV series. Cramming all this into 101 minutes, though, means that the narrative is the only thing that develops, while the characters can only go through the motions.

Caple gets it right in scenes where he tracks the kids on their boards, giving us a sense of the exhilaration they feel, but elsewhere he has a tendency to want to 'prove' how varied he can be, intercutting camcorder footage shot by the crew, not you suspect, to further the plot, but because it's a cool idea. Things are also too neat on this street. No loose end goes untied, for Caple, as the action culminates, on that most American (and clich├ęd) of holidays, The Fourth of July. Caple's unwillingness to let the natural messiness of life play a part, lends the action an over-regimented, fake air, despite excellent performances from his young ensemble cast. How, for example, is a kid who we've been led to believe has only dabbled in minor crime, able to show professional tendencies with a gun?

The supporting cast do what they can but their one-note characters - from Cisco's irredeemable diner owning uncle (Kim Coates) to the drugged-up prostitute (Erykah Badu) who props up his counter - are little more than set fillers. Caple and his cinematographer Steven Holleran definitely get the look even if the story doesn't quite deliver, suggesting more and better to come in the future, especially if they get the opportunity to work from a more polished script.

Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2016
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The Land packshot
A group of skateboarding friends fall foul of a drug queenpin.

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Sundance 2016

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