directed by Andrew Davis
(Walt Disney, 2003)
Stanley Yelnats IV is cursed. Actually all of the Stanley Yelnats's have been cursed since lovelorn family patriarch Elya Yelnats broke his promise to the indomitable Madame Zeroni over the courtship involving the pigs. Elya's son, the first Stanley Yelnats, seemed to break the curse with a stock market windfall, but his trip west was interrupted by the infamous outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow, who absconded with the loot and left him stranded in the desert.
The curse's current vindictiveness focuses on Stanley IV, convicted for stealing a pair of shoes and sentenced to dig a massive hole each day at Camp Green Lake, a punishment conducive to "building character."
While this may sound rather confusing for a film aimed at the tween and early teen market, Holes is really a faithful recreation of a fabulously multi-faceted book that has captivated readers of all ages.
Louis Sachar, who wrote the acclaimed 1999 novel for young people, brings his deft storytelling skills to the screenplay. While a few of the details have been simplified and rearranged for movie audiences, the complex, interconnected story remains intact and riveting. Throw in some realistic-looking flying attack lizards and a diverse yet oddly appropriate smattering of chain-gang, blues and rap songs for one entertaining tale.
Director Andrew Davis brings his ability to merge thrills and character depth. The director of The Fugitive and A Perfect Murder might seem an unlikely candidate for a children's film, but the complicated story responds to his well-balanced delivery.
Shia LaBeouf, of the Disney franchise's Even Steven series, becomes Stanley Yelnats IV just as Daniel Radcliff is Harry Potter. The other boys in this multi-cultural detention camp also shine, especially Byron Cotton as the gregarious Armpit, Max Kasch as the wild-eyed paranoid Zig-Zag and Khleo Thomas as the frequently silent but expressive Zero.
Jon Voight is anything but understated as the scary, big-bellied Mr. Sir, bringing a maniacal interpretation to the lizard-shooting enforcer of the camp. Rounding out the camp staff with star power, Sigourney Weaver plays the diabolical warden while Tim Blake Nelson creates shady counselor Pendanski.
As Stanley Yelnats III, Henry Winkler brings quirky comedy timing to his role as the luckless (cursed) inventor trying to recycle sneakers. His wife (Siobhan Fallon) and his father, Stanley II (Nathan Davis), add story-telling flair to the family's varied unfortunate experiences.
Familiar faces intercutting the flashback sequences include Patricia Arquette as the infamous kissing bandit, and The West Wing's Dule Hill as Sam the Onion Man. Eartha Kitt has a glorious, but brief appearance as Madame Zeroni.
I approached Holes with both enthusiasm and trepidation, hoping it could live up to the promise of the novel. It comes very, very close, which is more than can be said of most adaptations. Without intrusive special effects, the plot and characters work their magic. The filmed result, seemlessly connecting the three storylines, will satisfy the book's most ardent admirers as well as anyone else who buys at ticket.