Promised Land (1987) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's comments in white.

Promised Land is a "Last Picture Show" wannabe about young lives in a small town.

The four main characters are

  • a high school basketball star who washed out in college ball, lost his scholarship, and came back to work as a cop in his podunk town, where he could still bask in some of his youthful glory.
  • his cheerleader girlfriend, who was studying at a distant university, but was still pulled back to her small town by the warmth of family, her love for the ex-basketball star, and the memory of having been a very important person in the hierarchy of her small town society.
  • a geek who had been a long-time friend of the jock and the cheerleader, who left town without graduating from high school, drifted through menial jobs, and finally married a crazy speed freak he had known for three days.
  • the crazy speed freak.

All four characters seemed to be seeking a family unit that they couldn't quite find. The geek and the speed freak returned to the small town from Reno, both of them looking for a family, only to face the realization that the geek's bleak family life could not provide either of them with what they needed. For him, the reunion with his father was a severe disappointment, but for the speed freak, even a dysfunctional family seemed better than no family, and she wanted to build some kind of nest. They argued, and the result of their argument was a melodramatic tragedy which brought them back into the lives of the cop and the cheerleader.

Promised Land is a mediocre movie which seems to have a good movie hiding somewhere inside of it.

I guess it's a story about the failure of the American Dream, whatever that means. The plain truth of the matter is that in America, as in every other country, young people dream glorious dreams, then settle into less than glorious lives. With only a very few exceptions, people don't get a chance to live out their youthful dreams, and even those few who do achieve everything they dreamed about often find out that happiness does not accompany their achievements.

Immature filmmakers, however, love to tackle the grand subject of "America as Promised Land", the gap between the media conception of American life and the reality of everyday existence for average people. In the case of this filmmaker, he not only attempted to take on that weighty subject, but tried to do it with grand religious symbolism, in the rarefied atmosphere of fallen angels and religious hymns. This movie must show more angels than a Botticelli exhibition. There are even angels with broken wings! Oh, well, I guess that's part of being a young filmmaker, and not realizing that a good story will carry its own weight in terms of wider applicability, when and if people can see their own lives or familiar lives reflected in the characters.

This film would have worked much better without all the angel statues, and it certainly could have lost the cut-ins of Ronald Reagan speeches. The characters in the film didn't suffer tragedy because of the false promises and misrepresentations about America. There's no reason to believe that their lives would somehow have been better in another country, or with another, more compassionate President. In fact, the characters in this film were only about 20 years old, celebrating the Christmas vacation only a year and a half after high school graduation. That's a bit young to be a tragic failure, isn't it? At 20, one may have to re-adjust the vision of the future one had in high school, but that adjustment just involves setting a more sensible height for the bar, not wallowing in despondency and sorrowful longing for things past.


We see Meg Ryan's left breast from the side when she's in bed with Sutherland, and possibly her right breast when she is washing her hair in a filling station sink.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1

  • no features of any kind

The most effective element of the film was the wintertime cinematography of the desolate wide-open spaces between Reno and Utah, stark imagery which effectively underscored the film's message. That emptiness, and the individual lost lives encountered on the way, set the proper mood far more effectively than the heavy-handed religious and political symbolism.


Promised Land is finally being released on DVD, which means we can finally see Meg Ryan's breasts from early in her career.

The story is about some High School classmates from a small town in Utah. The film opens with Jason Gedrick winning the basketball conference finals, getting a scholarship, and celebrating in bed with his girlfriend,  cheerleader Tracy Pollen. Kiefer Sutherland, kind of a geek known as The Senator, stops by, and tells them he is quitting school and moving away.

Cut to a few years in the future. Gedrick, who couldn't cut it in college basketball, is back in his home town working as a cop. Pollen is home on Christmas break, and is majoring in undecided. The Senator has been in jail, and is pretty much a drifter and alcoholic. He wakes up in bed next to a speed freak (Meg Ryan) he has known for three days, and decides that he will marry her and take her home for Christmas.

I suppose the film has something to say about real life being a little tougher than High School in a small town, and does deal with friendship and loyalty, but I found it mostly depressing, and rather pointless. This is not my kind of film. It focuses on people who are essentially losers, and deeply flawed, and I am not sure any of them arrive at any sort of redemption. It is not a film I will rewatch.

Meg Ryan, however, was deliciously over the top, and worth the watch.

The Critics Vote

  • No major graded reviews online.

The People Vote ...

  • US gross: $316,000


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C- (both reviewers). Scoop says, "if the same filmmaker could re-make the film today with the perspective of a mature man, it would probably be a terrific, understated independent film. As it is, it is a turgid, heavy-handed, somewhat melodramatic attempt to assign cosmic significance to the disappointments in the lives of kids who are a year and a half out of high school."

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