All’s well that end’s well

Rating: NR

HBO’s Project Greenlight chronicled Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s screenwriting contest and the subsequent production of the winner’s movie. After watching the show on a weekly basis, I truly feared for what the final movie would look like.

Those with similar fears will be able to confront them by watching the DVD box set of the first season, which features Stolen Summer, the directorial debut of Project Greenlight winner, Pete Jones. Regular viewers of the show already know that the production was a shipwreck, with Jones, at first, out of his element and swimming with the sharks.

Having seen the behind-the-scenes mess makes it all the more remarkable that the film is a cohesive and occasionally touching piece of work. Jones’ screenplay is terrible at times, but his directing style shows promise. His film unfolds in a way that makes sense, looks pretty good and even makes you care a bit about the characters. That’s more than can be said about many directors’ fifth films, let alone their first ones.

Stolen Summer is set in 1976. We know this because Jones has inserted lots of period props like beer and soda cans and handheld Mattel football games. The movie tells the story of Pete, a Catholic schoolboy who goes on a summer quest to convert a Jewish person, so they can get into heaven.

This is a pretty silly theme to base your film on, and the child actors Jones employs do not give convincing performances. The screenplay definitely feels like a writer’s first hack at the trade, with dialogue that is too sanctimonious and technical.

It’s the performances, and in part, the directing that almost salvage the film. Aidan Quinn is actually too much as an Irish Catholic Chicago firefighter (he’s more caricature than character) but Kevin Pollack is wonderful as a local rabbi with a dying son. Bonnie Hunt does powerful work as Pete’s mom, and Eddie Kay Thomas makes the most of his few scenes as the older brother. Brian Dennehy walks through as a grumpy priest, completing what is an impressive cast for a first time director.

Considering that this was a first feature, and that Jones had the added pressure of a television series being based on his directorial trials and tribulations, the film can be chalked up as a marginal success.

SPECIAL FEATURES: This DVD is loaded. It has a four-disc set containing every episode, contest footage and commentary by Jones. There’s even a parody called Project Redlight starring Corey Feldman.

There are more than six hours of bonus features, and if that doesn’t do it for you, simply watch the excellent series again. I can’t wait to see what Affleck and Damon do with this concept in the future.

Movie: B+

DVD package: A+