Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

For two seasons running, the HBO documentary series Project Greenlight has sponsored a harrowing tour inside the Hollywood sausage factory, revealing the many ways in which a singular vision, however flawed from the start, can get compromised at different points down the line. As conceived by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and producer Chris Moore, the Greenlight contest was ostensibly designed as a means to discover talent outside the studio system, but fans of the TV show should be able to recognize spin when they hear it. In reality, the badly maligned Stolen Summer and The Battle Of Shaker Heights are merely an afterthought to the TV show, and what's worse, the nascent filmmakers are tagged as the fall guys. After writer-director Pete Jones foiled the auteur experiment with Stolen Summer, a shotgun marriage was arranged this year to pair the best screenwriter with the most talented director, all but ensuring a disastrous mismatch in sensibilities. Even apart from the dubious wisdom of forcing slapstick specialists Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle on serious-minded young writer Erica Beeney, the working conditions offer no end of booby prizes to the winners. After a scant six weeks of pre-production, the filmmakers are strapped with a $1 million budget, intense studio meddling at every turn, and a documentary crew following them around, airing their painful fissures and humiliating mistakes on TV as they put the film together. Then, the studio forces them into a test screening in front of recruited yahoos at a multiplex–people used to seeing $75 million blockbusters, not cheap works-in-progress on projected video. Viewing The Battle Of Shaker Heights after the series is over evokes the strange, Memento-like sensation of witnessing a train wreck in reverse, knowing exactly which cars were responsible for the derailing. If the TV show is to be believed, the lean 80-minute running time comes courtesy of Miramax marketing wizards, who were so keen to iron out the film's bumpy tonal shifts from smug comedy to broad drama that they gutted what remained of its heart. The few flecks of personality that survive are in Beeney's prickly dialogue and star Shia LaBeouf's winning, versatile turn as a high-school outcast who finds escape in the fantasy world of war reenactment. The finished product, indifferently directed by Rankin and Potelle, plays up the lighter elements, including LaBeouf's friendship with a WASP-y kid (Elden Henson) and his crush on Henson's sister (Amy Smart), a Yale grad student with a like-aged fiancé. Banished to the DVD supplements: key dramatic scenes detailing LaBeouf's troubled home life in working-class Cleveland (Los Angeles in a Groucho disguise) with artist mother Kathleen Quinlan and ex-junkie father William Sadler. Though more technically competent than Stolen Summer, The Battle Of Shaker Heights lacks even the minimal stamp of someone like Jones, who could at least lay claim to the final cut, mistakes and all. Shredded within an inch of its life by multiple cooks and professional second-guessers, Shaker Heights is a sad shrug of a movie, missing any of the passion that might have inspired someone to adopt it.


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