Review: Cleveland Kids Face The Choice To “Skate Or Hustle” In ‘The Land’
The dichotomy of how young people in America too often want to do positive, yet still drown in the trappings of their bad choices influenced by a meager socio-economical status, is perfectly illustrated in Steven Caple Jr.’s debut feature film, The Land. Legendary rapper Nas assisted Caple in executive producing the film and its soundtrack.
The new movie — written and directed by Caple — tells the story of four teens caught up in the rough streets of inner-city Cleveland, whom are desperate to trade their grim hood realities into professional skateboarding dreams in sunny California. Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly also has a small role in the film.
In efforts to make these ambitions come to fruition, the group’s leader Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) encourages them all to enter the drug trade. At first, the team composed of Junior (Moises Arias), Patty Cake (Rafi Gavnor), Bobbie (Ezri Walker) and Cisco engage in carjackings for quick paper. Then suddenly, one night, they manage to rip off a drug dealer for his stash of molly.
Cisco then pursues to persistently coax his more cautious friends to start selling the substance. In exchange, he says they can all get promising skateboarding sponsorships, and help dig out their families from the precarious poverty stricken hole that buries them alive.
Little does Cisco know, however, the trouble and loss that lies ahead with the owner of the illegal merchandise, Momma (Linda Emond). Momma looks like your typical middle-aged white woman, but beneath the facade lies a heartless drug king pin, who hides behind the counter of her owned food market as a disguise. With that stark contrast of Momma’s character — it’s blatant — Caple gave extra push in the film’s character development.
Throughout the movie, you’ll see intricate details of each of the boys’ personal narratives. There’s Bobbie, the most careful of them all, who comes from a home where his father is a hard working mechanic — and loves him unconditionally. That sense of security seems to make Bobbie a lot more aware of the trouble that the drug deals can bring, and he’sfar more reluctant to hustle. Then we have Patty Cake, a hood white boy who is in an interracial relationship with the mother of his little girl
Next comes Junior, the hilarious Puerto Rican kid who lives with his single-mother and little sister. His crazy antics and foolish ways will definitely make you crack a smile. And lastly, there’s Cisco, who sometimes has to stay with his crazy uncle and drug addicted prostitute, Turquoise (awesomely played by Erykah Badu)
As you can tell by now, their lives aren’t exactly ideal. Sandwiched in between the darkness, there is some light. You’ll see scenes of the boys enjoying the benefits that come with the lucrative hustling business. They go shopping for new threads and crash a rich dude’s penthouse party when they distribute some drugs to his celebration. Superficial much? Yes, but they are still just kids.
But like everything in life, things aren’t always what they seem through rose-colored lens. Amid small glimpses of light, there is far more tragedy. In retaliation for Momma’s stolen goods, Junior loses his life in the midst of a tsunami of fire works flooding the fourth of July night sky. Here, things get a little too cliché. Yes, there is the infamous hood slogan about not knowing if they are “gunshots or fireworks on July 4” but the storyline could have gotten a lot more creative. Nonetheless, the suspense that led to that tragic scene was palpable—and the aftermath, unbearable.
All in all, Caple does a good job at conveying that these are all goods at heart who made some wrong turns as young men. At the beginning of the film, one scene sticks out: Cisco goes into Slick’s convenient store to purchase some goods to make pancakes. Since Cisco doesn’t have enough, Slick lets him get everything for just a dollar. The remaining cash is his. When Cisco exits the store, a homeless man is outside begging for money to ride the bus, so he gives the man the only money he has for his fare. In hindsight, good people sometimes make bad choices, right?
The Land premieres in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday July 29th. Here is a never before seen exclussive clip of the film below.