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Shia LaBeouf and Khleo Thomas are amused to find they've chosen the same outfit for tonight's big dance.

© 2003, Disney
All Rights Reserved

Stanley Yelnats (Shia LeBeouf, TV's "Even Stevens") is in big trouble. Having been accused and convicted of stealing a pair of celebrity cleats up for charity auction, he is sent to the desolate Camp Green Leaf to serve out his 18 month term of hard labor. Overseen by Warden Walker (Sigourney Weaver), her evil guard Mr. Sir (Jon Voight), and the counselor Mr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson), Stanley meets his fellow inmates, who go by such nicknames as Zig-Zag, Squid, Armpit, and a young shy boy named Zero (Khelo Thomas). The punishment for their crimes is to dig holes in the earth, 5 feet deep and 5 feet wide, and to continue doing so to build character. But as Stanley, now nicknamed "Caveman", recounts stories of an old timey western outlaw named Kissin' Kate Barlow who buried treasure somewhere in the area, he stumbles across the real reason Warden Walker wants these holes dug.

It's hard to dislike the vast "Holes," (IMDb listing) as I'm sure I'm only getting about half of the story. Disney has bent over backwards to remind everybody that "Holes" is based on the award-winning, beloved novel by Louis Sachar (who also wrote the script), but what they don't mention is that if you haven't read the book, it's almost pointless to see the movie. Sachar has crammed his novel with depth of character and storytelling that the film juggles poorly, and probably couldn't do justice to if it had all the money and time in the world. Because of the fanaticism surrounding the book, Davis and Sachar tread carefully, making sure every large story point is represented here, even if it doesn't quite fit into the film's own momentum. The audience is showered with too many characters to keep track of, as well as flashback upon flashback. For the uninitiated, like myself, it becomes one big dusty smear after about an hour.

However, within this smear there are some interesting, decidedly non-Disney like elements. "Holes" contains such touches as racial tension, suicide, murder, vomiting, and the overall exploitation of the youth that makes up the plot. It bends the PG rating just a little bit, though it's harmless enough. But for a studio as paranoid as the Mouse, this commitment to keeping the integrity in "Holes" is mighty impressive to behold.

"Holes" was directed by Andrew Davis ("Chain Reaction, " "Under Siege," "The Fugitive"), who is coming directly off one of the more inane, offensive films of the new millennium, "Collateral Damage." Davis isn't a filmmaker known for his epic storytelling capabilities, nor are is his films visually ripe and breathtaking. "Holes" needs a director who isn't so content with flat visuals. Someone who can breathe life into the barren vistas. While Davis certainly sells the sparse location of Camp Green Lake, he doesn't warm up to it as the characters eventually do. Take for instance a scene in which Caveman and Zero find a secret green sanctuary on top of a desert mountain. This should be an oasis overflowing with life. But in tried and true Davis fashion, the power of the scene is curtailed by the lack of imagination.

Though the cast is filled with imposing talent, lead Shia LaBeouf steals the film away from the veterans with his natural, winning performance as the troubled Stanley. LaBeouf projects a peculiar brand of vulnerability for his age, and manages to give the bone dry "Holes" a heartfelt core. The best scenes in the film feature LaBeouf and Khleo Thomas as Zero. Besides these two giving the film a rich, touching theme of friendship, it also happens to be the best acted stuff in the entire movie. While the rest of the cast was given a license to ham it up, LaBeouf and Thomas keep it very real. Very impressive turns from these two teens.

In the end, I'm speaking more for the audiences who won't have a clue who Zig-Zag, Armpit, or Caveman are. If you've read the book, this adaptation should fit the bill, but for those who haven't, I would rethink this as a family entertainment choice.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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