There’s a whole lot of nothing going on in THE BATTLE OF SHAKER HEIGHTS. In a script that tries to tackle everything from the Big Bang to the present, or so it seems, one is left at the end with a work that is so much less than the sum of its parts, that it fails to register at all. This is the second effort from Project Greenlight, a cable TV series set up by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to give deserving filmmakers their big break. A noble sentiment, one rife with good intentions and yet we all know what the road to hell is paved with.
We are offered up Kelly (Shia LaBoeuf), a kid who’s just a little too smart for the adults around him. He’s found his niche in re-enacting great battles from World War II, a pursuit into which he throws himself wholeheartedly but not without bending the rules. When not re-inventing the Battle of the Bulge, Kelly is pointing out the deficiencies in his history teacher’s lessons plans, getting beaten up by the history teacher’s son, and working nights at the local supermarket. During one of his unorthodox maneuvers on the faux battlefield, he is befriended by rich kid Bart (Elden Henson), who’s hip to helping him plot elaborate revenge against the teacher’s son. There’s also the artist mom, the ex-addict dad who takes the family larder over to a homeless shelter, and Bart’s dreamy sister, Tabby, who’s about to get married but to whom Kelly is inextricably drawn.
That’s a lot for one film to cover and writer Erica Beeney fails to turn any of it into even one coherent storyline. Instead, the different threads are picked up and tossed away with the careless abandon of a small child fascinated by a shiny object and just as easily bored by it when another comes into view, tossing it aside without a second glance or thought. Each individual scene exists in its own cinematic universe with only the most tangential of relationships to any of the others. This, plus puerile humor, frightening someone into peeing their pants, and facile dialogue such as “I’m so angry with my father” renders it impossible for any of the characters to make any real emotional connection with each other, much less the audience. Even the attempt by Beeney to create interestingly quirky characters falls flat, with such things as Bart’s father (Ray Wise) obsessing over nesting dolls. Even LaBeouf (HOLES), an actor of great heart and talent, fails to mine anything from this tapped-out vein. Sure he looks properly lovestruck over Tabby, but as written by Beeney and played by Amy Smart, there’s nothing to her except some nicely color-treated hair, which undercuts the swooning, but does make us admire LaBeouf’s skill.
THE BATTLE OF SHAKER HEIGHTS never settles down to being any one thing. It’s not a romance, it’s not a coming of age story, it’s not a tale of diabolically clever revenge. It doesn’t even take advantage of the WWII re-enactment element to create a larger metaphor. And it’s boring as heck besides.