“The Battle of Shaker Heights” was the second, and final, Project Greenlight movie. While there has been talk about resurrecting the series on another cable station like Bravo or A&E, the days of HBO, Ben and Matt, and Miramax shelling out $1-2 million for the feature film are over.
My personal theory is that “The Battle of Shaker Heights” was the final nail in the coffin for the franchise. It was the second film that had a wildly popular series but had a dismal showing at the box office. I haven’t seen Pete Jones’ “Stolen Summer,” although I hear it was a decent film – just didn’t have much wide mainstream appeal.
“The Battle of Shaker Heights” had its own problems entirely. The plotline was painfully predictable, the characters were shallow and the message was muddled in a cop-out to the writer’s dream. My theory is that much of the problems that arose in “The Battle of Shaker Heights” have their roots in the actual Project Greenlight contest.
The first round of “Project Greenlight” chose a writer/director to win. In the second round, the roles were split, supposedly because of some of the problems Pete Jones faced pulling double duty. In both cases, however, the judges were the contestants themselves.
At least in the first round, the judges had ambitions of directing as well as writing, which may have tempered their tastes a bit away from the standard indie screenwriter’s script. However, in the second round, the judges for the winning screenplay were strictly writers. The script that won is clearly written by a fledgling writer, for fledgling writers.
Add the fact that the contestants had to pay a submission fee, and it might have weeded out those who had a commercially viable screenplay. After all, the next “Terminator” or “X-Men” writer probably didn’t waste his or her money on entering the contest when the first film chosen had such an indie flavor.
I am not surprised with the outcome. “The Battle of Shakes Heights” reeks of every angst-ridden, autobiographical, “I’m only in it for the art” unproduced independent screenplay I’ve ever read. The general theme to most of these first screenplays that try so hard to live outside the mainstream is all the same. A young man is not that popular and has a hobby that no one understands. He is being perpetually chased by a hot girl at school, but he snubs her for an even hotter girl who is simply unattainable for whatever reason (in this film, she’s unattainable because she’s supposed to get married in a couple weeks).
“The Battle of Shaker Heights” tells the story of Cleveland high schooler Kelly Ernswiler (Shia LaBeouf) who balances his time between stocking shelves at the local grocery store and participating in war game reenactments. His parents are more out of touch than the average kid, with his former addict father (William Sadler) now volunteering at the halfway house and his ex-hippie mother (Kathleen Quinlan) teaching painting classes in their home.
Kelly is generally a loner, but becomes fast friends with a fellow reenactor, Bart Bowland (Elden Henson). Bart lives on the wealthy side of town, and he has a sexy sister Tabby (Amy Smart) who is set to get married to a preppy snob. Kelly gets infatuated with Tabby, which causes a rift in his friendship with Bart. As their last year in high school comes to a close, Kelly must learn to grow up.
The film stars Shia LaBeouf of the Disney Channel’s “Even Stevens” fame. In some ways, this past year has been awesome for young Mr. LaBeouf. He’s been featured in four prominent films, including lead roles in “Holes” and “The Battle of Shaker Heights.” But his other films have had lackluster performances, like a stint in the new “Charlie’s Angels” film and the pointless “Dumb and Dumberer.”
Clearly, the industry loves LaBeouf, and he isn’t a bad actor and he has a great agent. But he doesn’t have the cuteness of Hilary Duff to propel his career into stardom after his time on the Disney Channel. With his Ben Savage qualities, LaBeouf will never be the top action hero. Actors like Mike Myers have successfully worked around their non-lead image by finding a vehicle that works for them, but usually dramatic leads aren’t it.
If the box office disappointment wasn’t enough to clue you in on Miramax’s lack of confidence in this film, then the complete absence of even the tiniest extra features on the DVD is enough to make that clearly apparent. The DVD contains no features at all. Not even a cheap commentary track. Not even a behind-the-scene doco already packaged from the Project Greenlight archives. Not even different language subtitles.
So, if you’re gonna rent the movie, that’s all you’ll get. If you’re a Project Greenlight fan, check it out to see what came of the second movie. If you happen to be one of the many failed entrants to the contest, it’s worth seeing so you can tell your friends how much better your screenplay was.