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Project All Right

Stolen Summer, the movie created by HBO's Project Greenlight series, has rookie errors but is a pleasing coming-of-age tale.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002

Pete Jones' debut comes equipped with a prologue apology, a three-minute synopsis of HBO's Project Greenlight series, which spawned Stolen Summer. Jones' screenplay was chosen from among nearly 10,000 to be produced with the backing of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and HBO's longest behind-the-scenes time slot filler ever. If you see anything wrong with the movie, the prologue suggests, here's why.

Better to not mention Project Greenlight at all. Or at least wait until the movie ends. Everything there is to like about Stolen Summer seems like beginner's luck, and problems are pegged as a rookie's errors.

Much of the time, Jones succeeds. Stolen Summer is a respectable piece of work, a sweetly nostalgic coming-of-age story. (Original ideas obviously weren't a contest priority.) The script seems like a writer's exercise, with too many heart-to-heart talks suitable for workshops but lumpy as a cinematic whole. However, a roster of convincing actors, especially young Adi Stein in the central role, makes Stolen Summer a pleasant curiosity piece.

Stein plays Pete O'Malley, age 8 and destined for hell, according to his parochial school teacher. Pete plans to reach heaven by converting non-Christians to the faith. The ones with whom he'll score the most brownie points, he figures, are Jews.

Pete sets up a free lemonade and theology stand near a synagogue ministered by Rabbi Jacobsen (Kevin Pollak, in a very good performance). The rabbi admires Pete's curiosity but fails, as does everyone else, to explain the religious differences that would end Pete's quest -- and the movie. He also has a son Pete's age who has leukemia, one of several easy-to-predict crises in the screenplay.

The O'Malley family has its own problems to solve. Dad (Aidan Quinn) is a Chicago firefighter, an Irish stereotype with a beer in one hand and an iron fist in the other. Older brother Patrick (Eddie Kaye Thomas, American Pie) wants to go to medical school, but his father won't spring for tuition.

Each predicament dovetails with incredible coincidences and convenient tragedy. Cynical viewers will shrug off the cliches and concentrate on Jones' accomplishment in finishing the movie. Tolerant moviegoers will discover a competent after-school TV special from a promising filmmaker, although Jones is no more promising than hundreds of others who don't have Matt and Ben on speed dial.

Stolen Summer

Grade: B

Director: Pete Jones

Cast: Aidan Quinn, Kevin Pollak, Adi Stein, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Bonnie Hunt, Mike Weinberg, Brian Dennehy

Screenplay: Pete Jones

Rating: PG; mature themes, mild profanity

Running time: 91 min.

Showing at: Veterans 24, Tampa

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