Fans of Project Greenlight, the HBO series which gives first-time filmmakers the chance to get their films produced while the whole process is taped for TV, will be delighted to learn that the second theatrical release to be spun from the reality show is a tremendous improvement over last year's dud STOLEN SUMMER. Nothing comes easy for 17-year-old misfit Kelly Ernswiler (Shia LaBeouf), a smart kid who's become a familiar face in the principal's office thanks to his talent for tormenting his teachers. His artist mother (Kathleen Quinlan) betrays her talent to support her family with cheesy, mass-produced paintings; his father (William Sadler) is, as Kelly puts it, "a VH1 documentary without the music" who spends most of his time and the family's cash helping other recovering drug addicts; and their house is constantly up for sale. To escape his family, Kelly works the graveyard shift at a local grocery store; to vent his pent up aggression, he reenacts famous battles with armies of WWII recreationists. To the chagrin of his fellow military history buffs, Kelly tends to disregard the script and fabricate his own series of events from which he invariably emerges as the hero. His antics attract the attention of Bart Bowland (Elden Henson), an uptight preppie who lives under the watchful eyes of his demanding parents, and together the boys plan to get revenge on a local bully (Billy Kay) who's been tormenting Kelly. Dazzled by Bart's wealthy lifestyle, Kelly begins spending more and more time hanging around the Bowland family, especially Bart's older sis, Tabby (Amy Smart), a grad-student whose wedding is just days away. Kelly makes a play for the bride-to-be, but his crush threatens to destroy his newfound friendship with Bart. LaBeouf somehow manages to turn Kelly's self-centered behavior and irritating character quirks into a sympathetic lead, and the well-written script by newcomer Erica Beeney brings a lot of humor to some very touching moments. But while the strong supporting cast keeps the film from slipping into a melodramatic slump, veteran actors Quinlan and Sadler aren't given very much to do with their talents, nor do their roles have much impact on the outcome. However enjoyable, this coming-of-age story may hold little allure for those who are unfamiliar with its Greenlight roots.
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