Movie review: 'The Battle of Shaker Heights'

EntertainmentMoviesTelevisionElden HensonAmy SmartMovie IndustryChris Moore

2 stars (out of 4)

In a recent episode of HBO's "Project Greenlight," the reality show conceived by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Chris Moore that tracks the progress of three contest winners as they make a movie for Miramax, Affleck jokes that his mission to give a shot to aspiring filmmakers outside of Hollywood is doomed. He fears that maybe, just maybe, all the talent is already in Hollywood.Scary thought, but he's kidding - we think.

But then there's the "Greenlight" track record: last year's painfully elementary coming-of-age story "Stolen Summer," and this week's painfully blasé coming-of-age story "The Battle of Shaker Heights."

With a tiny budget, at least by establishment standards, directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin were forced to shoot "Shaker Heights" in L.A. rather than in its eponymous wealthy Cleveland suburb. That's a tough blow for a movie with the setting's name in its title, and one of many factors that contributes to the film's generic quality.

The story centers on Kelly (Shia LeBeouf), a precocious 17-year-old who's fixated on war, lives a middle-class life in an upper-class town, and resents his ex-junkie father. Kelly's the kid in class who mutters under his breath when the teacher glosses over war's brutality. His wasted potential inspires a principal's tough love. Oh, Kelly, what are we going to do with you?

Between working the night shift at a grocery store and dodging the high school bully, Kelly liberates some of his teen angst at war reenactments, where he meets Shaker Heights WASP Bart (Elden Henson).

Despite money and privilege, Bart is as burdened as Kelly, and - cue the scotch - a whole lot more repressed. Potelle and Rankin don't pay much attention to the development of the boys' friendship, just as they gloss over Kelly's tormented relationship with his dad and the roots of Kelly's anguish.

Kelly hangs out at Bart's house, which is equipped with the requisite cast-iron gate and chandeliers.

Kelly plays off Bart's family, which includes a blond, uptight mom and a Town and Country-ready older sister, Tabby (Amy Smart), who Kelly falls for at first sight. Like so many fictional love-struck teens before him, Kelly loses his cool, bumbles his words and stutters his way into Tabby's heart - even though we all know he is meant to be with fellow nightshift clerk Sarah.

But Tabby is engaged to Miner Weber, so Kelly has some wedding-stopping to do. And so on and so forth.As "Project Greenlight" devotees can attest, many of the movie's more dramatic scenes were left on the cutting room floor in a transparent attempt to make "Shaker Heights" a more marketable and categorizable movie - a comedy. But without any of the dramatic transitions, we're left with a pileup of scenes, none of them very funny, and a thin, linear plot. Even the fairly nuanced performance of Shia LeBeouf (the latest Hollywood "it" kid, who seems to be blessed with a certain elusive charm) couldn't give the film its peaks and valleys.

There is no way to know if, in different hands, Erica Beeney's script might have succeeded. Nor is there any way to know if Miramax's long and intrusive arm ruined Potelle and Rankin's vision. Perhaps those cut scenes would have made matters worse. But long before Peter Gabriel rolls out the closing credits, we know that the Project has failed once again.

Still, there is hope: No matter what Affleck suggests, there is plenty of artistic talent outside of Hollywood. The problem lies within the establishment, with people like Affleck and Moore calling the shots. Sure, they came up with a cool contest and a fascinating television show, but with their feet to Harvey Weinstein's fire, they just wouldn't risk choosing filmmakers who actually think outside of the Hollywood box.

And, come on, bringing J-Lo on set during a shoot is enough to ruin any director's concentration.

"The Battle of Shaker Heights"
Directed by Efram Potelle, Kyle Rankin; written by Erica Beeney; photographed by Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Richard Nord; produced by Chris Moore, Jeff Balis. A Miramax Films release; opens Friday, Aug. 29. Running time: 1:25. MPAA rating: PG-13 (language and some drug references).
Kelly Ernswiler - Shia LaBeouf
Eve Ernswiler - Kathleen Quinlan
Abe Ernswiler - William Sadler
Tabby Bowland - Amy Smart
Bart Bowland - Elden Henson
Sarah - Shiri Appleby

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EntertainmentMoviesTelevisionElden HensonAmy SmartMovie IndustryChris Moore
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