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2003 - PG - 111 Mins.
Director: Andrew Davis
Producer: Andrew Z. Davis, Lowell D. Blank, Andrew Davis, Cary Granat, Mike Medavoy, Teresa Tucker-Davies
Written By: Brent Hanley, Louis Sachar
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Patricia Arquette, Rick Fox, Khleo Thomas
Review by: John Ulmer
"Holes" is a wicked family film that is a bit strange in a "Willy Wonka" sense. But it isn't nearly as funny nor engaging. The cast is talented - young Shia LeBeouf continues to show talent - but it is lacking humor, a vital ingrediant in a movie like this.

The film chronicles the story of Stanley Yelnats IV, who is wrongly convicted of stealing a superstar's running shoes and sent away to grizzly Camp Green Lake, a camp devoid of any bodies of water, or even rain for that matter. Years ago the lake dried up and since then a juvenile delinquent society has been set up by a nasty old woman (Sigourney Weaver), who runs her camp with an iron fist. Her employer, Mr. Sir (Jon Voight), has just quit smoking and is constantly edgy. "I liked you when you used to smoke," she says.

Their racket is to get their delinquets to dig holes all day out in the area where the lake used to exist. We know they're looking for something, and we guess what it is long before the movie wants us to. It supplies corny flashbacks about a schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) who fell in love with a black man, and we expect the story to pay more relevancy to the plot than it does.

Stanley digs each day in the grueling heat, along with a clan of other rough kids (who all have catchy nicknames, such as "Armpit"). Stanley is, of course, a nice guy, and so he doesn't quite fit in at first. One day Stanley even gets blamed for stealing sunflower seeds. He just has constant bad luck.

Stanley's father (Henry "The Fonz" Winkler) blames this all on an ancient curse put upon Stanley's great-great grandfather. He made a deal with a gypsy (Eartha Kitt) and went back on his word, causing generations of bad-luck losers. Stanley's father, an inventor who works with shoes, can never get his formulas to work correctly. Stanley says he doesn't believe in the curse, but it always helps to be able to blame his misfortune on something.

The movie is based on the young adults' tale by Louis Sachar, who adapted his 1998 award-winning novel for the screen. The question is whether it should have been adapted at all. Given the story, I think it could have been done quite well, but there's something lacking in this Disney version. It goes for darkness at times but then lightens up and becomes overbearingly sweet. Other times it is nasty (mainly when it features the villains on-screen). Then it is nice. Which is it: Naughty or nice?

The director is Andrew Davis, who brought us the phenomenal hit "The Fugitive" back in the early nineties, and Arnold's comeback film "Collateral Damage" in 2002, which did quite well at the box office (though not with the crowds). Davis is talented but this film is sorely lacking something that may or may not be his fault.

Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Patricia Arquette get top billing, but this should really go to Shia LeBeouf, who I spotted on the Disney Channel's television show "Even Stevens" some three years ago and instantly noticed comedic talent. I even told a few people about how good he was on that TV show, and what do you know, now his big break has finally come. When he is given the right material he can be really funny. In ten years he may be the next Jim Carrey. I certainly hope so. He's a funny guy, he can embody his characters much more so than a lot of other teen actors out there. He's going to give a lot of modern comedians a run for their money.

But great performances cannot always save a movie. "Holes" dragged on for what seemed hours; quite simply, it bored me. I came close to recommending it, but reflecting on the film just now, I have realized I really don't remember any significant scenes, and if a movie can't last in your memory more than an hour, that's not a good thing.

Many people will like "Holes," I think, especially those who like wacky fantasies. But for me, there was something missing. Maybe I was expecting too much. I heard it had a splendid dark comedy side but I did not laugh a single time during the entire film, and let me tell you, I tried. The most I could do was crack a grin at one scene. But maybe this film isn't trying to be a comedy. What can I say, I expected something smart and witty such as "The Princess Bride" that works with both kids and adults. I expected wrong.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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