The Battle of Shaker Heights (The Project Greenlight Movie) (2003)

1 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Battle of Shaker Heights” is the second movie filmed out of competition for the “Project Greenlight” contest. “Project Greenlight” was an HBO behind-the-scenes TV series that documented the winners of a contest for screenwriting and directing (sponsored by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and Chris Moore)—amateur writers and directors who never worked on a movie before finally get their chance. The series followed the contest winners as they get together to make a movie with a small budget given to them. Throughout the series, we were with the people as they talked through their problems of making this movie and understood what they were going through. Then they finally get their movie done and the movie is shown in theaters on a limited release with the tagline “The Project Greenlight Movie”—a somewhat sad distinction. However, I can’t really say that the movies themselves are more compelling than the TV series that shows them being made. The show had more a more compelling storyline and even more compelling “characters.” The first “Project Greenlight” show featured the making of the movie “Stolen Summer,” a coming-of-age movie featuring Aidan Quinn and Bonnie Hunt (and a couple of annoyingly-cute child actors), if you recall. Now, the second “Project Greenlight” movie features the making of the movie “The Battle of Shaker Heights,” a coming-of-age story about a teenager who is ticked off at life.

The show is more interesting than the movie. But does it look like a movie more than a product? Yes. Is it worth recommending? Just barely, but there are some things to like about it.

I saw the show—I felt like I was with screenwriter Erica Beeney and directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin as they had arguments/disagreements about certain parts of pre-production, production, and post-production. Beeney has a lot of potential in her screenplay and Potelle and Rankin show some talent, but there’s too much going on in the screenplay and sometimes the movie is uncertain about which way it wants to go.

The main reason I am recommending this movie is because of the lead performance by Shia LaBeouf, who is very appealing as the lead named Kelly Ernsweiler, a 17-year-old war reenactor who takes his hobby very seriously and puts down the other reenactors who aren’t very serious—and he questions his history teacher about his teaching methods. His home life isn’t pleasant—his mother (Kathleen Quinlan) is an artist and caring enough, but Kelly doesn’t like his father (William Sadler), who used to take drugs and tries to tell the boy that he’s clean now (Kelly replies, “So what? I’ve been clean all my life.”).

Kelly makes a new friend in Bart Bowland (Elden Henson), a rich kid Kelly meets on the reenacting battlefield. They bond and become great friends and together, they form a plan to gain revenge on the school bully who gives Kelly a hard time. There’s a problem here—Kelly has a crush on Bart’s attractive (and engaged) older sister Tabby (Amy Smart) and so, Kelly is trying to impress her but Tabby only finds him slightly amusing. She doesn’t take his puppy love seriously. (Of course, what Kelly doesn’t know is that his attractive co-worker at a grocery store has a crush on him—that story element has been done too often, and here, it’s underdeveloped.)

There you see how much is in Beeney’s screenplay—I won’t even go into Bart’s father’s weird hobby of collecting nesting dolls. But there are a lot of clever lines in this movie—I’m glad to see on the show that none of them are improvised (at least, not a lot).

Shia LaBeouf is a very talented young actor, and here, he makes his character winning and three-dimensional. Elden Henson (“The Mighty”) and Amy Smart are very good here as well. Elden Henson, in particular, seems like someone you would want as a best friend.

I’m recommending “The Battle of Shaker Heights” just barely. I liked the performances very much. Maybe what would have improved the “Project Greenlight” scenario is if Matt Damon and Ben Affleck really got into the action instead of just disappearing and showing up when they need to. Then they could convince Miramax to send them a real budget. The possibilities (especially since “Good Will Hunting”) are endless.

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