Touted as an act of creative charity, a way around the traditional gatekeepers of the Hollywood system, Project Greenlight offered one lucky novice the chance to write and direct a million-dollar movie, and have it distributed theatrically by Miramax. It remains unclear whether producers Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Chris Moore began their experiment in bad faith or it merely ended up that way, but it's pointless to search for a shred of idealism under so many dense and fascinating layers of compromise. In a classic case of cart-before-horse, Project Greenlight was known first (and will most likely be remembered) as a slick and addictive 12-episode documentary/reality-TV show on HBO: Burden Of Dreams meets Survivor meets The Real World. On top of the normal pressures of an untested director on a limited budget, the contest winner, an earnest everyman named Pete Jones, was subjected to the scrutiny of a camera crew and a wave of pre-release publicity, making his feeble debut, Stolen Summer, seem more like an afterthought. Jones himself was a compromise choice—Damon and Affleck worried, rightly, that the script was Afterschool Special material—and he had to battle feckless executives, production mishaps, two child actors (at the legal limit of five hours a day), and a lot of second-guessing to get his vision to the screen. But for all his scrapping and clawing, Stolen Summer turns out to be a mild and weightless melodrama, too safe even by Indiewood standards and far from the maverick pose of Project Greenlight. While it's rare for questions of faith to be addressed explicitly in American films, Jones sticks all too closely to the naïve perspective of two boys, played with sing-songy voices by Adiel Stein and Mike Weinberg. One of eight children in a working-class Irish Catholic family headed by fireman Aidan Quinn and mother hen Bonnie Hunt, Stein spends the summer of '76 trying to convert people to Christianity, a quest he hopes will steer him off the path to hell. He sets up shop in front of a synagogue, where the rabbi (Kevin Pollak) introduces him to Weinberg, who is currently in remission from leukemia. Seizing the opportunity to get a dying boy into heaven, Stein takes a cue from Bruce Jenner and devises a Decathlon of physical "tests" for Weinberg, with a Communion wafer as the gold medal. From the start, Stein's worries about hell are more precociously cute than real, and the urgency of his quest never frightens the beatific Weinberg, who just looks happy to have a friend. Their scenes together are full of innocent exchanges about the hereafter—these kids are always saying the darndest things—but the actors never seem to address each other, as if their dialogue scenes were shot on separate days and spliced together in the editing room. Jones is repeatedly bailed out by the veterans in his cast, especially Quinn, who invests a stock character with remarkable authenticity and feeling, and complicates the film's lone theme of religious tolerance. As a TV series, Project Greenlight ends with Stolen Summer's triumphant première at the Sundance Film Festival, but beyond fulfilling the dreams of a seemingly nice fellow, the whole venture is a victory of hype over substance, loudly accomplishing nothing.