[box cover]

Holes

Everybody in Stanley Yelnats' family is cursed with rotten luck — or at least all of the men, who also happen to maintain a tradition of taking Stanley as a given name (since, after all, it's Yelnats spelt backwards). It's a prophecy that dates back several generations, to when American immigrant S. Yelnats failed to keep a promise in the old country to the mystic Madame Zeroni. Since then, failure has been a familial plague. After all, Stanley III (Henry Winkler) has been trying for years to concoct a cure for foot odor, but to no avail. Even worse, Stanley IV (Shia LaBeouf) is pegged for stealing a pair of sneakers — he didn't do it, but it's still earned him an 18-month stretch at Camp Green Leaf in the middle of the Texan desert. Once there, the timid Stanley meets his fellow incarcerees, all of whom sport nicknames like "X-Ray," "Armpit," "Squid," "Magnet," and "Zig-Zag." And then there's "Zero" (Khleo Thomas), a small boy who does not talk — at least until Stanley shows up. They quickly form an alliance, which can be useful considering the overall purpose of Camp Green Leaf: digging holes. Lots of 'em. Why, nobody knows — except for Warden Louise Walker (Sigourney Weaver), the camp's disciplinarian "Mr. Sir" (Jon Voight), and counselor Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson). Every day fresh holes are dug, but tensions between the camp's administrators and their charges soon come to a head, after which Zero, and then Stanley, find themselves on the run in the desert, miles from any known source of water. However, their hegira soon reveals valuable clues about the history of the region's dry lake bed — secrets that Warden Walker and her flunkies would rather not be brought to light. Based on the popular children's book by Louis Sachar (who also wrote the screenplay here), Holes (2003) is a charming family film that brings live-action Disney fare into the 21st century. The soundtrack is contemporary rock and hip-hop, and the somewhat brutal nature of the camp is made plain, both by the cruel Mr. Sir and the entrenched bullies who enforce the various pecking orders. However, fans of the book may find the film a disappointment — while coming in at just under two hours, it feels very much like a nearly three-hour film has been crammed into the frame. Not only do we get the story of Stanley and Zero, but also the legend of "Kissin' Kate" Barlow (Patricia Arquette), a white woman who swore vengeance on the American frontier after her black lover Sam (Dule Hill) was murdered by uppity locals. This legend is what gives Holes its rich texture, setting into motion Sachar's wry universe of chance, coincidence, and destiny. However, folks may find themselves wanting to know more about "Kissin' Kate"'s exploits before we are propelled time and again more than 100 years in the future, where Stanley and Zero are bound to put the pieces together, and learn of their own proper places in history as well. The movie is layered with the mythic details that fill Sachar's creative canvas, but even if it feels like it comes at a rush, this one's a good choice for family spins. All of the young actors are blessed with screen presence, while their elders Weaver, Voight, and Nelson play the villains with the perfect blend of menace and grade-school pantomime. With some kids' movies starting to resemble Saturday-morning cacophony, Holes is a refreshing turn. Disney's DVD release features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include the featurettes "The Boys of D-Tent" (10 min.) and "Digging the First Hole" (9 min.), a commentary from director Andrew Davis and author Louis Sachar, a second commentary with cast members Shia LaBeouf, Khleo Thomas and others, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a music video. Keep-case.
—JJB



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