- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

"Holes" makes a literal-minded specialty of holes reportedly dug in a Texas badland setting by juvenile detainees who form a kind of child chain gang for unscrupulous jailers played by Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight (in his extra-gnarly bag, though far less effectively than in "Anaconda") and Tim Blake Nelson.
The plot and its allegorical pretensions are conspicuously moth-eaten. One is compelled to assume that these shortcomings reflect a certain fidelity to the source: Novelist Louis Sachar is credited with adapting his own book for director Andrew Davis, reverting to the consistency of his unlamented whimsical flop with Andy Garcia, "Steal Big, Steal Little."
A heap of borrowing seems to have gone on while "Holes" was being contrived from ill-assorted influences. Arbitrary and unflattering debts are owed to "The Rainmaker," "Cat Ballou," "Brubaker," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Like Mike." Nevertheless, the movie may have a built-in fan base to exploit because the book collected a Newbery Medal, a National Book Award and a Christopher Award for juvenile fiction. Maybe it's one of those cases where the magic slips away when depicted.
A pair of celebrity sneakers fall from a great height, landing on the head of teenage protagonist Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf, who doesn't look remotely as exotic as his name). Grief ensues in the form of an arrest for theft and a sentence to Camp Green Lake for Troubled Youth.
The falling sneakers aren't ascribed to Michael Jordan, in this case, as they were donated to a charitable organization by a pro basketball luminary named Clyde "Sweetfeet" Livingston, impersonated in a fleeting way by Rick Fox of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Poor Stanley would be justified in having feet on the brain because his dad (Henry Winkler) is a mad inventor, preoccupied with eliminating telltale odors from athletic footwear. Similar coincidences are kind of an occupational hazard throughout "Holes."
At Green Lake, Stanley tries to keep his nose clean and eventually bonds with the other guys, earning a nickname, Caveman, that harmonizes with such established handles as Zero, Squid, Armpit (another field for Mr. Yelnats, sooner or later), Zigzag, Twitch and Barfbag.
The runt of the litter, Zero (Khleo Thomas), emerges as Stanley's special pal. Coincidence also blesses the friendship, which proves to have mystic links that go back three generations to Latvian peasantry. While elaborating that whopper, the filmmakers insinuate Eartha Kitt as a Gypsy fortune teller.
The past keeps intruding on Stanley's ordeal. The scurvy trio running Green Lake have designs on a buried treasure rumored to date to the Old West, when a spacious and picturesque lake dominated the landscape, now a desert full of 5-by-5-foot holes. This is where the "Cat Ballou" element blunders in. Flashbacks doggedly account for how things went rotten and turned a schoolmarm, Kate Barlow, into a ruthless outlaw.
The context is too ramshackle to accommodate a Western digression also freighted with politically correct baggage. Kate's vengeance trail is less alarming to contemplate than the premature cragginess that seems to have overtaken the face of Patricia Arquette, whose comeback is unlikely to be hastened by "Holes."
Overcompensating persecutions and stabs at pathos swamp the tale of Kate's thwarted passion for a kindly black onion grower named Sam (Dule Hill). The obstacles to interracial bliss seem insignificant compared to the painful impression that a career is being laid to rest somewhat heartlessly.
Not that Miss Arquette petrifies alone. The middle-aged Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight have little to brag about while yoked to this stupefying rabble-rouser about boys in bondage. Pretending to be facetious menaces is basically an inducement to question their judgment. Still, "Holes" is harder on some post-teenagers than others.
Presumably, the Disney organization was confident of a specialized reading public before it approved a budget and hired the backhoes needed to dig all those dry holes. It takes some temerity to litter a film with reminders of how easy it is to encounter movies that dig their own graves, metaphorically speaking. Despite the obvious invitation to embrace it like a lost and supplicating puppy, "Holes" remains a grotesque, creepy heartwarmer.

*1/2
TITLE: "Holes"
RATING: PG (Occasional violence, morbidity, gruesome illustrative details and comic vulgarity)
CREDITS: Directed by Andrew Davis. Screenplay by Louis Sachar, based on his novel. Cinematography by Stephen St. John. Production design by Maher Ahmad. Costume design by Aggie Guerard Rodgers. Music by Joel McNeely
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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