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A teenager is wrongly accused of a crime and sent to a juvenile work camp in the desert where he and his campmates are forced to dig holes ''to build character''--or so they're told.


Based on the award-winning children's novel by Louis Sachar, Holes is essentially the story of young Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf), a goodhearted kid who unfortunately lives in a family where the men are plagued by an ancient curse thanks to the stupidity of Stanley's ''no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great grandfather,'' as we learn in a subplot that unfolds in flashback. Given the curse, it's not surprising that Stanley is falsely accused of stealing a pair of shoes and sent to Camp Green Lake, a grossly misnamed boys detention camp. Home to a thriving town in the late 1800s, the lake has now dried up into a desert wasteland filled with venomous creatures, and its history--and secret--is detailed as part of another subplot, also told in flashback. Stanley soon discovers the campers' rehabilitation consists of digging holes, which according to the menacing Warden (Sigourney Weaver), her right-hand men Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) and Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson) will help Stanley and his fellow D-tent inmates--including tent leader X-Ray (Brenden Jefferson), stinky Armpit (Bryan Cotton), crazy ZigZag (Max Kasch), thief Magnet (Miguel Castro), thug Squid (Jake M. Smith) and little Zero (Khleo Thomas)--build character. The boys are under orders, however, to immediately report to their keepers if they find something ''special.'' Naturally Stanley does, and he starts a chain reaction that culminates in a daring escape--and a chance to break the Yelnats family curse.


From the kids to the adults, there's isn't a bad egg among the cast. Of course, you expect great things from veteran actors such as Weaver, Nelson (The Good Girl) and Voight--even if latter has been known to take a misstep here and there. (Anyone remember Anaconda? [Shudder].) Playing the three villains in Holes, the actors expertly combine their skills to find a delicate balance between understated malevolence (the Warden), mean-spiritedness (Pendanski) and just plain over-the-top badness (Mr. Sir). Yet, it's the younger acting ensemble you have to truly admire, especially the shaggy-haired LaBeouf (Disney Channel's Even Stevens) and the sweet-faced newcomer Thomas. As Stanley and Zero, the two young actors have a very natural rapport together, which makes their characters' immediate bond believable. The rest of the D-tent boys inhabit their individual and quirky personalities with ease, with Cotton's debut performance as Armpit a standout. There are also some nice cameos, especially by Henry Winkler as Stanley's inventor father, who's trying to find a way to make shoes odorless, and by Eartha Kitt as Madame Zeroni, the gypsy who puts the curse on the Yelnats family.


It's not always possible to get the writer of a beloved novel to adapt his own work into a screenplay, but it's highly recommended if you want the film to capture the book's true essence--and keep its fans happy. Holes director Andrew Davis recognized this and convinced Sachar to adapt his extremely popular novel, and for the most part it works out pretty darn well. The main difficulty Sachar and Davis face is trying to incorporate Holes' many subplots within the main story; Sachar doesn't seem to want to let anything go, so the film drags a little in places. But the Golden Globe-nominated Davis, known for maneuvering through intricate action stories such as The Fugitive, does a nice job keeping things flowing, intercutting between the history of how treasure came to be buried at Camp Green Lake and the present, and giving audiences a thrill.

Bottom Line

Even though it's chock-full of plots and subplots, Holes is an exciting, treacherous and funny adventure that should thrill the fans of the book--and find new ones.