Contrary to what its packaging suggests, Cash Crop is neither a pot comedy nor a James Van Der Beek vehicle. But the misleading marketing is, as usual, wholly understandable: There's always an audience for stoner films and doe-eyed-pretty-boy vehicles, but a considerably smaller one for molasses-slow rural dramas about the desperation of small-time farmers. Originally titled Harvest, Cash Crop stars Wil Horneff as a sullen, overachieving rural teen anxious to leave small-town life behind, much to the chagrin of his father (Jeffrey DeMunn), who wants to keep him on the family farm. In a desperate attempt to stay afloat, DeMunn and a group of stodgy minor-league farmers begin growing marijuana, which brings a gruff, no-nonsense DEA agent (Mary McCormack) into town to investigate alongside laconic local sheriff John Slattery. As McCormack and Slattery get closer to discovering the town's big stash, the farmers grow increasingly anxious, while Horneff's discovery of his father's secret crop leads to some industrial-strength angst. Director and co-screenwriter Stuart Burkin aims high in his directorial debut, setting his sights on nothing less than a Lone Star-like look at the dark underbelly of rural life. Unfortunately, his ambition outstrips his abilities, while his stiff, TV-movie-style direction ensures that the film never gets too interesting or suspenseful. Burkin's long, static takes and over-reaching plot smother what little suspense Cash Crop attempts to create, while Horneff does little with what has become a tiresome cliché: the artistic, sensitive soul who longs to escape his humble origins by going away to college. A miscast Van Der Beek doesn't fare much better in a minor supporting role as Horneff's stoner buddy, who disappears early on, shortly after some virtuoso, pot-enhanced bongo playing. Only Slattery and McCormack rise above the material, with Slattery in particular doing a nice job capturing the ambivalence of an essentially decent man torn between his affection for his community and the responsibilities of his job. The two actors have a nice, low-key chemistry that recalls the big-city-cop/small-town-cop dynamic in Carl Franklin's terrific One False Move. Unfortunately, they stand out mainly because they're the only element of Cash Crop that even comes close to working.
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