"The Battle of Shaker Heights" is the second offering released and made from the successful HBO reality series "Project Green light" which chronicles the search for a screenplay and director in which Ben Affleck and Matt Damon will produce for one million dollars. Then we get to see the movie being made and inevitably watch the film. I didn't see the first season of "Project Greenlight" but I did watch the product of it "Stolen Summer", a mediocre, bland, and safe offering from Damon and Affleck who don't want to take a risk considering their history for risky and edgy indies like "Mallrats", "Chasing Amy", and "Gerry". I decided to watch the second season of "Project Greenlight" and yet again it was the search for a screenplay to finance and a director.
For the second season there was the same self-indulgent ranting from Affleck and Damon, and some showing off of J.Lo from Affleck but nonetheless I watched amateur screenwriter Erica Beeney win, and a two director team Efram Potelle, and Kyle Rankin get the chance to show off their chops. Suffice it to say the season was a rip as we watched these three amateurs slog through the production, fight, and fail in all the test screenings to audiences. So, "The Battle of Shaker Heights" was made and released, and yet again after watching I realized it's still more contrived, fluffy, and safe offerings into the film world.
I can't understand why Affleck and Damon won't take more riskier projects on board and insist on financing these fluffy shallow films other than using this show for publicity. What's wrong with "The Battle of Shaker Heights"? Many things, but mostly it's it's horrible script and dialogue. Some dialogue had me cringing, some had me staring in confusion, and some dialogue just left me alienated.
We saw the series, we saw the activity, and we saw how many people actually had input on the making of this movie. It's clear by this movie, all of its characters, all of the muddled subplots taking place at once that there were simply too many cooks in the kitchen. We could see it in the series. We saw the directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin, two very unprofessional directors attempting to take control of the film and re-write the script, we saw Erica Beeney trying to take control of her script, we saw producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck weighing in, we saw Harvey Weinstein weighing in, we saw producer Chris Moore coming in and trying to take control. There was just too many people for one movie, and that's the problem. Did it occur to anyone to give them the money and let them make the film, then give your input on the finishing article?
Ultimately, "The Battle of Shaker Heights" is not a movie, it's a concept for a movie that never gets off the ground. I felt like I was watching an hour and a half trailer for a movie with a bunch of random scenes cut together without a real story, I can't wait to find out what the real movie looks like. What "Shaker Heights" suffers from with the mediocre directing job is a very underdeveloped range of characters that we never get to know. We trudge through lines like "Why are you dicking with me, you little dick. You wanna play, dick face?" and the worst of the dialogue where the main character Kelly is attempting to talk with Tabby. She is painting and she says "I'm playing with diffusion", to which he replies "Well make sure you do it under super vision." Ha ha. It's cheesy lines like that make this movie so ridiculous at times.
Kelly played by the very talented Shia Lebeouf is a world war re-creationist who takes pride in knowing about the wars fought and is a bit rebellious, and one day he meets Bart the youngest in a rich family who befriends the troubled youth and the two become friends, until Kelly meets Bart's older sister Tabby well played by Amy Smart who doesn't seem to acknowledge the boy but still befriends him slightly and goes about her business. Soon Kelly looks for any excuse to hand around Tabby knowing she's getting married which creates conflict. Very under-developed conflict.
Throughout the entire film I was thinking how good this movie could have been had they added thirty more minutes to the running time which could have left the door open for more character development and more development with its number of subplots, but once again, its story never goes beyond its concept. Kelly is an odd character, he's a war buff because hey he has a vehicle and wears the clothing, and he works at a supermarket when there's nobody there, and he has a friend/co-worker named Sarah played by the adorable Shiri Appleby, another grossly under developed character who has a combined total of five scenes in the film and is never focused on. We know the two are friends and we get the slight sense she's jealous at his fawning over another woman, but there's barely any focus on her, so who cares?
So, we see Tabby another under-developed character who's given the persona of an artistic individual who never develops beyond her character concept. She's a bit of a tease towards Kelly giving him little smiles and flirty come on's yet gets angered when he responds. She's then given the plot that she's getting married to a guy named Miner to when she's ever asked about the marriage she quickly responds "I don't want to talk about it." Why? They never explain it. It was assumed by me that she was set up from another rich family and forced to marry him. But it's never explained in the sloppy script.
So Kelly confronts her in a really bad scene when she's crying complaining her fiance kissed another woman which leads to a kiss between the two characters. If she hardly seems to care about her fiance why does she care that he cheated? It's plot holes like that that make the movie unbearable to watch at times. The character Miner, Tabby's fiance doesn't seem to be a bad guy. He befriends Kelly, talks to him like a friend, yet we're supposed to view him as the bad guy.
Screenwriter Beeney never gives us a reason to hate him, so Kelly is the one that comes off as the jerk in his pursuit towards Tabby. Then it's never explained why Kelly falls in love with Tabby in the first place, and we never really get to know Bart outside of his conceptual design as a neat dresser and proper yet friendly guy. So, Kelly is given an obligatory sub-plot which handles the job of setting up his character but is really forced. His mom is a Bohemian artist who houses a group of artists who manufacture paintings in their home and sell them, and Kelly's father works somewhere with drug addicts.
Being an ex-addict himself, he tries to reach out to Kelly though Kelly refuses to talk to him. Once again, Kelly's parents aren't given subplots nor are they developed and fleshed out, so they're simply plot devices in the end. The plot tries to reel towards comedic tones but ultimately ends up as a depressing drama about a rather annoying guy. Writer Beeney sets up so many sub-plots at once but never fleshes them out and never develops them, so everything feels forced, awkward, and rushed. Even as it transforms into a drama, the drama is forced as well in some awkward and droning scenes including Kelly confronting Tabby on her wedding day, a scene where Bart and Kelly inflict revenge on a school bully which attempts to be funny but just ends up becoming mean, and the happy safe ending which is so trite, obvious, and tacked on it left me groaning in my seat.
"The Battle of Shaker Heights" has a lot of potential to be a great coming of age teen drama, but potential is all it has. "The Battle of Shaker Heights" and "Stolen Summer" is proof that a good concept doesn't always pan out in a successful franchise. While the "Project Greenlight" is entertaining and engrossing the finishing products are poor. How about throwing more money and time to these poor people? It's no wonder HBO dropped the series.
Though this does garner great performances by Smart, Elden Henson, and especially Shia Lebeouf and the occasional entertaining moment, this suffers from a terrible script with grossly under-developed sub-plots and characters, cheesy dialogue, and many plot holes.
My advice: stop "Project Greenlight" until Affleck and Damon are ready to take risks in their investments and until Miramax is willing to cough up more money and time for making these films. Then maybe we'll get a film worth talking about.
* and a half out of **** stars.