It's Bunting's debut on the 12 Days Of Summer Movies stage — with, fittingly, the worst of the films on her review draw. She'd like to thank Mr. Stupidhead for suffering through Stolen Summer with her, and Pete Jones for fading into relative obscurity.
Summer Timeline: The proud tradition of summer movies strongly suggests that the characters complete some sort of mission by Labor Day, and you've got two missions on offer. The stated mission is a "quest" undertaken by eight-year-old Pete O'Malley (the almost unbearable Adi Stein). Tasked by a nun at his 1976 Catholic school to work on his staying-out-of-hell potential over the summer, Pete does not roll his eyes and spend the next few months playing sandlot baseball and eating Bomb Pops, oh no — he decides to find a Jewish person, convert him, and get them both into heaven. After marching over to the nearest synagogue and pestering the rabbi in charge (Kevin Pollak), Pete identifies his target: seven-year-old Danny, the rabbi's son, who is not only Jewish but recovering from leukemia.
…OR IS HE?
Well, Danny's definitely Jewish, which according to what Pete's been told means Danny can't get into heaven. Pete's solution: cobble together a decathlon, "like Bruce Jenner." (I don't know.) If Danny "passes" the decathlon, he'll go to heaven. (I…still don't know.) Can Danny knock off the last event, a challenging swim out to a buoy and back, and qualify for admission at the pearly gates?
(Sarah: "Gee, do you think the cancer's gonna come back?" Mr. Stupidhead: "Not if the kid fuckin' drowns like he's supposed to." We're not good people.)
The subtextual mission, meanwhile, is a quest undertaken by Project Greenlight to wring a successful movie out of the semi-autobiographical treacle penned and helmed by Pete Jones, despite Jones's inexperience; non-credible dialogue; contrived ignorance of major religions on the part of the main characters; trite subplots; a weak understanding of mid-seventies culture; Jeff Balis; and truly painful child acting that, while it is not entirely (or even mostly) their fault, is a serious problem in a film that centers on said children.
The first mission succeeds…kind of. Danny dies; we're to assume he's gone to heaven, based on various shot set-ups, but the entire decathlon is vague in both theory and execution, and the "climactic" buoy swim, made so much of in the first half of the movie, is completed offscreen in order to set up an unearned emotional payoff later (if I recall correctly, it was really because little Mike Weinberg's mother had misled the production as to his swimming abilities, and they ran out of time to get the shot).
The second mission fails, moistly.
Stolen Summer is not without potential; the story is simplistic and sentimental, but if Jones had had access to better casting — and time for a few dozen rewrites that got closer to how children think and behave — it could at least have executed its myriad clichés believably. The acting from the adults is quite good given the writing they have to work with — Aidan Quinn, playing Catholic firefighter and father of hundreds Joe O'Malley, is saddled with bigoted, underwritten clankers like "Fine, be like the Jews!", and has to swim upstream in a B-plot about eldest son Patrick's (Eddie Kaye Thomas) college plans, but thanks to both Quinn and the underrated Thomas, it leads to a handful of nice scenes. (Of course, the audience's relief that these scenes contain neither of the kids may contribute to that.) And it's utterly unbelievable that children raised in a large American city would have zero everyday understanding of other major religions (actual line of dialogue: "What's it like to be Jewish?"), but Pollak plays his scenes with the non-credibly ignorant (and poorly blocked) Pete with wry deftness.
Brian Dennehy, meanwhile, is on the point of bursting into disbelieving giggles during his scenes as Father Kelly. It's not the most professional behavior, but I feel the guy — the rabbi's last name is spelled "Jacobsen." Not to indulge in the same sort of uninformed generalization the script specializes in, but: what, he's Swedish?
Enviable Vacation Locale?: The film's one moment of dimension is a knockout sunset crane shot over Lake Michigan that does a lot of emotional work economically; DP Pete Biagi sets the visual "suburban summer past" scene very well. Depends on how you feel about Chicago, I guess.
Coming Of Age?: Nothing but. Everyone learns a Very Important Lesson about tolerance, encouraging the dreams of children, and proper application of birth control. …That last one may only show up in the director's cut.
Best Summer Ever?: No. And retitling the movie Stolen Fortnight is probably indicated; the timeline is murky, and while it's unlikely that Danny would go from riding-bikes-around-the-nabe remission to death in three days, that's how the movie makes it seem. That's this movie for you, though (don't get me started on the synagogue's board voting to give Patrick a full college scholarship 48 hours after having heard of — but not met — the kid, who does not attend that synagogue or any other).
Summer Fashions: Wardrobe apparently confused 1976 with 1966. Bonnie Hunt in particular looks like she stepped out of a Jackie Kennedy pattern book.
Worth The A/C?: No.
As A Summer Movie: The Project Greenlight season that follows the making of the movie: A-minus. (Ohhhh, Balis.) The movie itself: D-plus.
Tags: 12 Days Of Summer Movies