Those who watched the second season of Project Greenlight will view this coming-of-age dramedy with an eye for the changes wrought by producers Chris Moore and Jeff Balis, who cut out the more saccharine moments in an attempt to save it. Those who didn't watch will just get an overwhelming sense of something missing from the truncated 79-minute Battle of Shaker Heights, the prize awarded to screenwriter Erica Beeney and directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin in HBO's reality contest. What's onscreen can be funny and charming, due in large part to the talents of Shia LaBeouf, who gives an improvisational spark to Beeney's dialogue. But this can't cover up for the massive failure to complete character arcs or resolve plot threads, circumstances complicated by the directors' famous inability to stick to shooting schedules or grab enough usable footage during the brief periods their actors were available. Still, the film's most schizophrenic element was in the script all along -- LaBeouf's Kelly Ernswiler, a Character with a capital C, who's written as a mélange of quirky (and often contradictory) traits rather than a totally believable person. Although he seems the essence of a liberal free spirit, he reenacts famous military conflicts, fetishizes weapons, and drives an army jeep. He also spends too much time lamenting his participation in a harmless revenge plot against a bully who never showed him the same consideration. Without LaBeouf making him so likeable, Kelly's character deficiencies might have been even more apparent. Ultimately, The Battle of Shaker Heights shows more promise than the first Greenlight effort, Pete Jones's Stolen Summer, but also a greater sense of how amateurs can waste their opportunity.
by Derek Armstrong review