***1/2 (out of 5)
April 18, 2003
Sigourney Weaver as THE WARDEN WALKER
John Voight as MR. SIR
Patricia Arquette as “KISSING” KATE BARLOW
Shia LaBeouf as STANLEY YELNATS
Tim Blake Nelson as MR. PENDANSKI
Khleo Thomas as ZERO
Dule Hill as SAM THE ONION MAN
Directed by: Andrew Davis
BY KEVIN CARR
Onions. Peaches. Poisonous lizards. And Holes. Lots of Holes. All of these things have a deeper meaning in “Holes,” Disney’s latest live-action feature.
Based on Louis Sachar’s award-winning children’s book of the same name, “Holes” is everything you’ve come to expect from a Disney film. It has the honorable, but reluctant hero. It has the cast of wacky characters. It has the evil villainess. Heck, the only thing missing is the Elton John song.
And actually, that makes the film even better.
Stanley Yelnats (Shia LeBeouf from the Disney Channel’s “Even Stevens” fame) is falsely accused of stealing baseball legend Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston’s shoes from an auction for a local orphanage. He is given a choice – either go to jail or serve his sentence at Camp Green Lake. Stanley chooses camp over prison.
However, there’s one catch. There’s nothing green at this camp but the food, and there hasn’t been a lake there for over 100 years. It mysteriously dried up after the townsfolk killed a local black onion farmer named Sam (Dule Hill) for starting a relationship with Katherine, the pretty, white schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette).
Stanley meets his fellow prisoners, each of them with different nicknames: X-Ray (because he can see right through you), Magnet (because his pick-pocketing hands are like magnets) and Armpit (because… well, you can probably guess this one for yourself). After some mild hazing, Stanley earns his own nickname – Caveman – and becomes friends with the gang.
Camp Green Lake is led by The Warden Walker (Sigourney Weaver) who has her right-hand man Mr. Sir (John Voight) and camp doctor Mr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson) take busloads of the kids into the desert lakebed to dig holes. A hole a day, every day. They say it is to build character, but we all know they’re looking for something. The kids are told to bring anything “interesting” to the attention of Mr. Sir or Mr. Pendanski. If they think it’s interesting, the one who found it gets a day off.
The runt of the group, a tight-lipped homeless kid named Zero (Khleo Thomas) becomes a close friend of Stanley. One day Zero escapes from camp, and Stanley heads out to find him. Together, they discover the real secrets of Camp Green Lake – and the truth behind what the Warden and her cronies are looking for in the desert.
Throughout the film, director Andrew Davis crosscuts between the present-day story of the kids in prison with the history of Green Lake, including the forbidden love affair between Sam and Katherine. He also cuts back and forth to Stanley’s family history and how all the men are cursed. This curse dates back four generations to Stanley’s great great grandfather who stole a pig from a Latvian Gypsy. If that’s not enough crosscutting for you, then you’re in luck. Davis also cuts back to Stanley’s family at home as well as his trial for stealing “Sweet Feet” Livingston’s shoes.
Overall, there is a lot of flip flopping between stories, sometimes jumping back and forth more frantically than an episode of “Seinfeld.” Of course, this isn’t totally Davis’s fault. The original book has all these stories as well, and some of the awkward storyline shifts are mere casualties of the novel’s adaptation. Still, the multiple storylines keep the film moving along at a fairly good clip, considering it’s almost two hours long (which is pretty long for a kid’s film) and doesn’t feel drawn out.
In a lot of ways, the kids overshadow the adults in this film, and it’s a shame that about half-way through the movie, we abandon many of the younger characters. While Stanley and Zero move into their own story, the others nicknamed juvenile delinquents are left in the dust – literally.
Sigourney Weaver is showing her age a bit here, and Tim Blake Nelson who stole the show in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” delivers a relatively bland performance as Mr. Pendanski. The only adult that actually holds up to the kids is John Voight as the unstable hired hand. Imagine his character from “Anaconda” after spending several years in the desert drinking spiked coffee and suffering from heat stroke.
Of course, there’s a lesson to be learned by everyone in this film, and a lot of the plot wraps up a bit too neatly in the end. However, what else do you expect from a Disney movie?