Directed by: Andrew Davis
Starring: Shia Laboeuf, Khleo Thomas, Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Eartha Kitt, Patricia Arquette
Holes is as rare as treasure found buried in the desert -- a movie made for kids that adults can thoroughly enjoy. Thanks go partly to Andrew Davis, a dynamic director who usually applies his talents to big action flicks (such as 1993's The Fugitive, one of my favorite movies of all time). The book's author, Louis Sachar, also wrote the screenplay -- a rare happenstance of creative continuity. Holes, winner of the 1999 Newberry Award (the most prestigious award in children's literature), has become, in some circles, as popular as the Harry Potter franchise. (When I last checked, Barnes & Noble had copies of Sachar's book on their shelves.)
What makes the movie so good are the same things that have made all those English teachers around the country so keen on assigning it: a complex yet accessible feel-good, feel-proud contemporary story interwoven with two historical tales; kooky, likeable characters (both among the good guys and the bad); a totally weird setting (a dry lake bed with concrete-hard soil and endless sun and dust); and an intellectually satisfying grab-bag of themes ranging from racial diversity to family solidarity all the way to justice.
Although Holes is at times annoying (one character's rattlesnake-venom nail polish) and preposterous (two kids without water climbing a mesa in 100-degree heat), it's mostly touching, funny, meaningful and, to use an old-fashioned word that seems to have gone out of favor lately, it is, most importantly, entertaining.
Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBoeuf, TV's Even Stevens) is an insecure Adam Sandler-type of kid from a family whose men routinely blame their bad luck on their "no-good, rotten, pig-stealing great-great-grandfather," Stanley Yelnats The First. It seems the original Stanley, as a young farmer in Latvia, failed to complete a task given him by a gypsy seer, Madame Zerone (the ubiquitous Eartha Kitt), who cursed him and all his male progeny. After immigrating to the U.S., he achieved legendary status after being held up by infamous Texas stagecoach robber Kissin' Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette, Little Nicky), and living to tell about it.
Though today's Stanley revels in these stories of old, he seems not to be the stuff of legends. Blamed falsely for stealing a pair of shoes from a homeless-center fund-raiser, Stanley is sentenced to 18 months servitude at a bad-boys reformatory. Camp Green Lake, which has neither water in it nor anything remotely resembling greenery within 100 miles is a detention center of Dickensian drudgery where a hapless lot of teenage boys must every day dig holes (5 feet wide and 5 feet deep) under a searing, cloudless sky. Their keeper is Mr. Sir, Jon Voight (Ali, and here wearing padding and a brunette pompadour), having entirely too much fun hamming it up as a Texas cowboy gone bad. Sigourney Weaver (Aliens) also has too much fun playing the wicked witch of the West, the nasty "Warden," who forces the compulsive digging of holes on worthless land that was once the valuable lake owned by her great grandfather.
Zero, the runt of the reformatory litter (Kleho Thomas, numerous TV commercials), who actually likes digging, bargains with Stanley to dig his hole in exchange for Stanley's teaching him to read. But, uh oh, this causes big trouble with the rotten adults, and Zero flees across the desert to the distant mountains. Stanley, compelled by friendship, risks his own life to venture into the wasteland to find and save Zero. Little does Stanley IV know he is journeying to destiny, and that along the way, he will find a secret crop of giant onions, a satchel of treasure, a den of deadly lizards, the cure for stinky sneakers, true courage and the antidote to the family curse.
As I said, this is one entertaining movie.