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'Promised Land' (R)

By Desson Howe
February 05, 1988

"PROMISED LAND," Michael Hoffman's movie about the dashing of the American dream, is a collection of cliche's culled from such films as "Hoosiers" and "American Graffiti." But its intensity of spirit -- youthful hope in the American heartland -- comes through.

That mood of "Promised" is furthered by the evocative cinematography (by Ueli Steiger and Alexander Gruszynski), which circles around sun-tipped mountains, expansive plains and hot springs; as well as choral voices piping religiously, and relentlessly, in the background. It's as if both camera and soundtrack are Greek chorus to the foibles of youth -- all-American youth like Davey Hancock (Jason Gedrick), who stays spellbound for years by that winning basket he made for his high school team. Dropped from his college team, he's doomed to languish in his hometown as a cop, playing one-on-one in the office. His high school classmates include his all-American girlfriend Mary (Tracy Pollan), who wants something beyond a high school sweetheart, and Danny Rivers (Kiefer Sutherland), a sensitive soul who drops out to find his own way. He comes back years later, married to the wacked-out Beverly (Meg Ryan).

Ryan's performance is effervescent. She's as nutso as her purple-dyed hair. She giggles and splutters her way through a dinky, Las Vegas-quickie wedding and totes a gun. But her quirks are dangerous, and she triggers a fatal turn of events when she comes to town. "Promised" unfortunately turns on this unaffecting, melodramatic climax -- based on a real incident -- which has none of the impact Hoffman obviously intended. Transferring such gruesome police-blotter tales to film is a dicy venture that sometimes works ("Dog Day Afternoon") but usually doesn't ("Star 80," "River's Edge," you name it).

Hoffman's requiem for youthful expectations (supervised by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute) is clumsy, heartfelt and promising.



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