Saturday 23 October 2021

Movie Review: Promised Land (1987)

A drama about dreams both broken and non-existent, Promised Land threatens to say something important but remains mired in the company of uninteresting characters.

It's 1984, and in the small town of Ashville, Utah, David Hancock (Jason Gedrick) is the high school basketball star, dating cheerleader Mary Daley (Tracy Pollan) and destined for a college scholarship. Their classmate Danny Rivers (Kiefer Sutherland) is socially awkward and sarcastically nicknamed Senator. He also has a crush on Mary. Despite having no plans or prospects, Danny quits school and leaves town without telling his parents.

Two years later, David is a police officer back in Ashville, his college and sports dreams already shattered. Mary comes back from her college for a Christmas visit. Meanwhile, Danny is in Nevada, squatting in an abandoned warehouse. On a whim, he marries Bev Sykes (Meg Ryan), a woman he met just three days prior. Danny and Bev start the long drive to Ashville where he wants to reconnect with his parents. Meanwhile, David and Mary are unsure where their relationship is going.

Apparently based on real events, Promised Land never quite gets to whatever profound statements it was seeking. With the backing of executive producer Robert Redford, writer and director Michael Hoffman has potentially interesting small-town social topics to work with and an eye for beauty within sparse landscapes. But the movie lands flat, bogged down with David and Mary as one bickering maybe-couple, while Danny and Bev embark on an tedious road trip. 

The jock who peaked in high school, the cheerleader blossoming in college, the misfit still discovering himself, and the wild free-spirit are all defined within the opening 30 minutes. The script lacks meaningful context, progression, and compelling arcs, and the acting often dips into melodramatics. The young cast members do their best while in some cases still learning their craft, but are far from rescuing the sparse material and clunky dialogue.

David as a police officer loves shooting his service revolver at a makeshift shooting range, and the borderline unstable Bev also has a gun, so the hints of something bad about to happen are clear. Similarly obvious is the theme of young men from small towns struggling to make something of themselves with minimal familial support, while Ronald Reagan hovers over the country from his television perch. Promised Land is an idea waiting to happen, getting lost both in small town angst and the featureless desert.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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