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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.67%
Average: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 5.56%

1 review, 12 user ratings

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Battle of Shaker Heights, The
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by Collin Souter

3 stars

“War is hell,” we’ve always been told. Yet, one can always use war as a metaphor for many different facets of life, including the business world, Hollywood, one’s own ambition and high school. Basically, if it involves conflict, war can be used as a parallel. We all fight, or have fought, for something and the struggle is usually remembered as a “battle.” Life is full of them, and we are to take the aforementioned proverb to heart, all of life “is hell.” We watch our loved ones die before we have a chance to say the things we want to say to them, women reject us and we lose many of the battles we choose to fight.

Okay, so that’s not the same kind of hell depicted in the opening sequence of “Saving Private Ryan,” but war and hell have often been trivialized so as to bring everything down to our own egos. The opening of “The Battle of Shaker Heights” introduces us to people who re-enact battles from WWII, one of them being a male high school student named Kelly Ernswiler (Shia LeBeouf), a likable curly-haired kid who drives an army jeep and rejects his parents’ New Age hippie ways. His rich best friend, Bart Bowland (Elden Hanson), shares Kelly’s enthusiasm for the subject of war and why people fight it, yet their efforts on the battlefield often get short-changed anytime somebody’s cell phone goes off. For these people, war is a hobby.

Shaker Heights is a suburb where these two live. Kelly works in a grocery store with another best friend, Sarah (Shiri Appleby), where they talk about the ratio of the different kinds of cat food to the different kinds of baby food. Sarah is always there to help Kelly out when being taunted by the school bully, who eventually becomes the target of an elaborate prank that I wouldn’t dream of giving away. We sense a slight romantic tension between Sarah and Kelly, but Kelly eventually sets his sights on a girl completely out of his league, Tabby Bowland (Amy Smart), sister of his best friend Bart. Of course, Tabby will soon be married to an equally WASP-ish young man and Kelly tries to talk her out of it.

Kelly is a likable guy, the kind of person we usually root for in a teen angst drama. He looks awkward, never conforms, always has the right thing to say and reminds us of that uncomfortable time in our lives when we fall for someone completely out of our range. I liked him and I wanted him to do good, but I never really got the sense that he was fighting the good fight for something noble. He falls in love, but of course it’s a hopeless situation, and of course if and when things turn sour, he will always have his cute best friend Sarah on which he can fall back.

The first hour of the movie feels fresh and vibrant and has more than its share of genuine laughs, thanks to Erica Beeney’s (mostly) whip-smart script and Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin’s assured direction. The dialogue sounds sharp, even if it doesn’t sound believable (For the record, my favorite TV show is “Gilmore Girls,” a most unrealistic dialogue-driven show, and I can’t get enough of it). Sure, nobody in high school talks like this or has a witty comeback for every situation, but I can take it since it comes from a solid cast. A movie such as this can easily get by on charm, so long as we get a surprise or two from the rest of the script.

And yet, the movie comes up short in the surprise department. It sets itself up in a way that suggests war will be used as some kind of metaphor for the battlefield of teen angst. Yet, the situations and conflicts dealt with in “Shaker Heights” don’t lend themselves to anything particularly deep. Towards the end, one gets the distinct feeling that the movie will not get much more daring than this. If you’ve read the above plot synopsis, you can pretty much guess the rest of the movie easily. When Kelly’s passion for Tabby starts to consume him, what do you think will become of his friends? When war-obsessed Kelly gets into fights with his hippie parents, what tragedy do you think will bring them together? Did I mention the wedding yet?

So, “Battle of Shaker Heights” doesn’t have its share of battles. War isn’t hell, so much as it is a pastime. In the same vain, watching this movie isn’t so much enlightening as it is amusing. By the end, we are left with a checklist of teen angst that we have seen many times before. The only real surprise comes at the very end when Kelly gets something we didn’t realize we wanted him to get. Yet, all along I wished he had a worthy nemesis other than your average school bully. At least “Rushmore” had the Bill Murray character, an equally flawed and confused character to offset the angst endured by Jason Schwartzman. When those two fought, we didn’t know who to root for. “Shaker Heights” doesn’t give us a choice. We like Kelly, sure, but it takes two to tango.

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originally posted: 08/31/03 06:22:05
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User Comments

11/07/04 Daniel Mooring Worst directing ever. 1 stars
6/18/04 Kara Haley Bruce Aderhold is a hottie! 5 stars
6/15/04 Teia I love Shia, So I love this movie 5 stars
10/20/03 James Dills I want to mount Anson Mount!!! 5 stars
10/05/03 Shia wannabe good movie 4 stars
9/23/03 Eframs' gay lover The funniest movie since Gigli! 5 stars
9/12/03 Bruce Aderhold Great effort for first timers!!! 4 stars
8/24/03 Rusty Shackleford This movie is even funnier than "Freddie gets Fingered" 5 stars
8/21/03 David Bertoni Intelligent film, with an authentic, funny lead character. 4 stars
8/21/03 Brian Jinkelson Really, really, wonderful 5 stars
8/20/03 Amy Jenkins This was a funny, funny movie 5 stars
8/18/03 The Dude This is the best movie since Howard the Duck. 5 stars
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  22-Aug-2003 (PG-13)



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