review by KJ Doughton, 18 April 2003

Perhaps my head was buried in an isolated burrow when children first embraced Louis Sachar’s best-selling book, "Holes," in 1998. Five years later, surrounded by anxious, pre-teen theater goers squirming restlessly in their seats, I acknowledge the informed banter of children that know far more about the story than I do.

"I wonder when we’ll see Mr. Sir," squealed a grade schooler from one row back. "I hope they do a good job with the yellow lizards," asserted another small fry scrunched three seats down on my left.

Eavesdropping on such discussions, an obsessive thought kept running through my mind. Am I the only one here not familiar with Sachar’s beloved tale of troubled kids banished to a dusty work camp, where they dig blister-inducing holes to "build character?"

No matter. Early into its first enchanting reel, Andrew Davis’ adaptation had already won over a previously uninitiated sap like me. Holes is a spirited, unique story of children uniting to overcome both persistent curses of the past and troubling hardships of the present.

All chaos breaks loose when a pair of sneakers falls from the sky and into the world of Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf). Before you can say Reebok, a patrol car screeches forth and picks up Stanley, who is unjustly accused of stealing the shoes. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to the youth’s sad-sack family, including his father, a hard-luck inventor (played by Henry "The Fonz" Winkler, going against the grain of his too-cool "Happy Days" persona) whose quest for the ultimate shoe deodorizer is a dismal stinker.

To pay penance for his alleged crime, Stanley is shipped to Camp Green Lake, where a corrupt Warden (Sigourney Weaver) and her redneck yes-man, Mr. Sir (Jon Voight, whose leathery grimaces, and macho stances bring to mind a John Wayne wannabe with serious insecurity issues), rule the roost.

With the unforgiving sun beating down on them from dawn ‘til dusk, Stanley and a handful of other teens don orange prison suits, brandish shovels, and stagger into the lunar landscape of a Texas desert. Despite the camp’s name, Green Lake has long since dried up, with the only liquid in sight handed out in sparse supply by stingy Mr. Sir.

As he earns the respect of his peers, Stanley teaches a quiet, curly-haired prisoner named Zero (Khleo Thomas) how to read. Meanwhile, he suspects that the warden, a temperamental witch who scratches her foes with poison-slathered fingernails, has a hidden agenda behind the relentless digging.

After this original setup has been established, director Andrew Davis strategically heaps on flashbacks that connect Stanley’s distant family past to the present. A hex-casting gypsy (Eartha Kitt), several dozen deadly yellow lizards, two jars of severely outdated peaches, and a doomed love affair between a schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) and a handyman (Dule Hill) are but a few of the links that provide Stanley’s salvation.

Holes is one of the few films in recent memory that serves up a juvenile hero who feels real, decent, and genuinely likeable. LaBeouf plays Stanley as an honest, unassuming fellow whose assertiveness blossoms before out eyes. Even as he is bullied by the veteran tough kids and belittled by the warden’s uncaring crew, Stanley always tries to do the right thing. There’s no hip, callous cynicism anywhere in sight. Hopefully, LaBeouf will continue to create root-worthy characters, and not feel obligated to "grow up" by playing a psychopath, a junkie, or a gigolo his next time out.

Out of the adult performances, Jon Voight’s Mr. Sir is destined for the time capsule. Hunching forward like a cowboy poised for a shootout, Voight’s crusty, weathered overseer looks like some chronically constipated crab.

Adding a tasty dimension to Holes’ barren landscapes is a soundtrack of rock and country folk by artists as diverse as Shaggy, Moby, the Eels, and Pepe Deluxe. Whenever the digging becomes too redundant, and Davis’ film threatens to evaporate under the oppressive heat, a soulful voice breaks out of the mirage to liven things up.

With Holes, Andrew Davis resurrects his reputation as a top-notch craftsman of the cinema. Having fashioned career-best projects for actions icons Chuck Norris (Code of Silence), Steven Seagal (Under Siege), and Harrison Ford (The Fugitive), the director has tackled children’s fables and emerged with a picture as unique and appealing as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He’s a filmmaker who’s full of surprises.

Directed by:
Andrew Davis

Shia LaBeouf
Khleo Thomas
Sigourney Weaver
Jon Voight
Tim Blake Nelson

Written by:
Louis Sacher

PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.







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