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The Battle of Shaker Heights

  The Battle of Shaker Heights

© 2003, Miramax
All Rights Reserved

As a WWII recreationist, teenager Kelly Ernswiler (Shia LaBeouf, "Holes") lives a life of anger and solitude. With his recovering-junkie father (William Sadler) spending more time with his fellow addicts than with him, and school bullies giving him a hard time, Kelly has no outlets to vent his frustrations. When a fellow teenage recreationist named Bart (Elden Henson, "The Mighty") falls into his life, the two quickly become friends. The resulting relationship offers Kelly a chance to seek revenge on his enemies, and make a play at Bart's older sister, Tabby (Amy Smart, "Rat Race").

"Shaker Heights" (IMDb listing) is the second film to come from the indispensable behind-the-scenes HBO reality series, "Project Greenlight." The most in depth show ever to tackle the frustration, mismanagement, and idiocy of making movies, "Project Greenlight" is consistently winning and hilarious. Sadly, the series is now even more notorious for producing two films that fall below any type of normal quality standard.

The studio funding both "Shaker Heights" and "Project Greenlight" is Miramax, and living up to their reputation, they've cut their little film to shreds. The last "Greenlight" feature was Pete Jones's "Stolen Summer," and it failed because it was misdirected and poorly made all around. "Shaker Heights" is actually a well-made film, topped off with a stellar lead performance from star Shia LaBeouf - a tremendous teen actor who is the only reason to catch this film. Directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin do a commendable job with their obscenely low budget. The film itself looks good and shows admirable polish.

Story-wise the film is a nightmare of unfinished business. There's little doubt that the original script by Erica Beeney was a fine piece of work, surveying the damage done to a character who has been let down by life and refuses to trust anymore. Too bad the studio hands got to it in the end, and turned the nuanced "Shaker Heights" into a grotesque comedy that only occasionally addresses the concerns brought up by the plot, and sees fit to edit out any trace of character substance. Had this been an outright disaster like "Stolen Summer," it wouldn't seem so painful. But the groundwork laid by the filmmakers is still present in "Shaker Heights," making the edits and story reconstruction render the film a Frankenstein's monster of a finished project.

The future of "Project Greenlight" is currently in limbo, and deservedly so. For as good at the series has been at allowing that all-too-rare peek behind the velvet curtain of filmmaking, the pictures born from the show have been mangled disasters.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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