Director Steven Caple Jr. is said to have based elements of his feature debut, “The Land,” on teenage skateboarders he mentored, but it’s hard to avoid comparisons to other stories about coming of age on violent city streets, from “Boyz ’n the Hood” to the present.
Growing up in Cleveland, Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and his friends don’t like being told that they face a future as welders, mechanics or janitors. They steal cars for money and, one night, find a stash of pills in a trunk.
“I don’t know one person who hasn’t done something shady to get what they want,” Cisco says, arguing for selling the drugs and using the cash to enter skateboarding competitions. The drugs, unfortunately, belong to Momma (Linda Emond), a kingpin who — in a diabolical cover — runs a farm stand at the city’s West Side Market. Emond is a Broadway actress, and it’s a measure of her commitment that she almost sells this ludicrous character, who at one point hides a gun under a stylish sun hat.
Such contrivances spoil the sense of realism and place that Caple, who wrote the script, often so deftly evokes. There are some powerful quiet scenes, as when one of Cisco’s friends (Ezri Walker) receives an ultimatum from his father (Michael Kenneth Williams, ensuring that many reviews will include a comparison to “The Wire”).
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As if to personify the movie’s whiplash-inducing split between gloss and grit, singer Erykah Badu appears as a prostitute — and also contributes a duet with Nas, one of the executive producers, to the soundtrack.
(At Screenland Crossroads.)
Not rated. Time: 1:44.