The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some drug references
Running Time: 79 min.

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Elden Henson, Amy Smart, Billy Kay, Shiri Appleby, William Sadler, Kathleen Quinlan
Efram Potelle, Kyle Rankin
Screenplay: Erica Beeney
Review published March 24, 2004

The Battle of Shaker Heights marks the second release (after Stolen Summer) for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's Project Greenlight, a screenwriting contest where the winner gets to make a film for under a million dollars.  Much of the selection process and production for this film has been chronicled in the documentary series, "Project Greenlight", which resulted in a limited release (less than 5 theaters) in the Summer of 2003.  It wasn't a hit, and didn't even make back its money, but that's not to say its a bad film.  In fact, for the most part, it's quite entertaining in its modest way, with good characterizations from Erica Beeney's contest-winning script.

Shia LaBeouf (Holes) won the starring role as 17-year-old Kelly, a bully magnet in high school who spends much of his free time engaged in realistic war reenactments.  His best friend is Bart, a rich kid who also takes part in the battles, who convinces Kelly to use his knack for tactics on the battlefield to strike back at the bully who keeps messing with him.  Meanwhile, Kelly develops a crush on Bart's older sister, Tabby, who is on the verge of getting married.  it's a confusing time for Kelly, who is forced to confront his own issues about what's important in life, when all his plans go awry and his dysfunctional family life begins to fall completely apart.

Although it is perhaps too slight to be memorable for long, The Battle for Shaker Heights is an often amusing verge-of-adulthood teen film that isn't too far removed from the ones which were so prominent in the late 80s.  In fact, Shia LaBeouf's character would seem to have been written with a young John Cusack-type in mind, as his quirky outlooks on life and odd sense of humor makes him a likeably pathetic romantic.  As fine as LaBeouf is, he might be just a little too normal for the role.  At the same time, the relatively normal role of Tabby is given to the slightly off-center Amy Smart (Road Trip, Rat Race), creating a situation where both actors are not really playing to their strengths, but not so far off where the humor can't be properly enjoyed.  The teen scenes and awkward romance are the strongest aspects, but a good portion of the story is spent in exploring Kelly's strange family life with his eccentric parents, which isn't nearly as profound as the creators probably had hoped it would be.

As long as you don't mind the fact that, at best, The Battle of Shaker Heights plays like a well-written and acted television teen dramedy, you are probably in the right mindset to enjoy this comical diversion.  Directors Potelle and Rankin, who spent years as short film directors, apply their knowledge of economizing their story by keeping the film length at 80 minutes, just long enough to qualify as a movie while not padding for extra time for no purpose.  If you miss those 80s comedies by John Hughes or the aforementioned John Cusack, you might give The Battle of Shaker Heights a shot for a reasonably close modern-day attempt at covering the same stylistic ground.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo