Published Jan 27, 2016Executive produced by Nas and co-starring Erykah Badu (both of whom also contributed to its soundtrack), The Land arrives with some pretty major co-signs. That's why it's somewhat unfortunate that the film plays it so safe.
The first feature from director Steven Caple Jr., the film follows four lower-income teens in Cleveland, Ohio. They spend their time ditching school and stealing cars to fund their skateboarding habit. A series of events leads to them discovering a bag of Molly, which they decide to sell in order to raise enough money to enter some skate contests. What follows is a familiar plot where the ringleader named Momma responsible for the drugs goes on a violent rampage to get them back.
The main cast does a mostly solid job, with Jorge Lendeborg Jr. demonstrating a ton of potential in his debut role. His friends Junior (Moises Arias), Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron) and Boobie (Ezri Walker) also prove worthy and likeable co-stars, offering a believable bond between friends. Another interesting character is Momma (Linda Emond), who subverts traditional gangster roles with her front as an upper middle-class, organic food-peddling white lady. Even Machine Gun Kelly proves he can hold his own as a comedic convenience store employee.
Unfortunately, not all roles are equal. Badu is barely there as a strung out prostitute with an overly simple persona, while Kim Coates is unintentionally wacky, over-acting his way through the film as Uncle Jim.
The Land will keep your attention throughout, but it too often feels like an after-school special that was snuck into Sundance. Each scene is a predictable extension of the last, and its cartoonish quality does not mesh with its few attempts at grit. Coaxing solid performances from his young actors and offering up some vivid cinematography, Caple Jr. has merit as a director to watch. Still, it'd be nice to see him work with a more complex narrative in the future.