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Holes (April 17/03)

Holes is based on an acclaimed children's book by Louis Sachar, and the film often feels as though every single plot element has been crammed into the screenplay (which was also written by Sachar). This is a film that would've been far more effective had the story been simplified.

Our hero is Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf), a teenager who's convinced his family is cursed. Through flashbacks, we learn that Stanley's great-great grandfather crossed a mysterious bayou woman named Madame Zeroni - who promptly laid some kind of an evil spell on the Yelnats family. In the present day, Stanley finds himself sentenced to 18-months at Camp Green Lake over a mixup involving stolen shoes. This isn't any old camp, though; the inmates (all kids) are required to dig a rather large hole each day for the purpose of "building character." Running the joint are Mr. Sir (Jon Voight), Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson), and a nameless warden (Sigourney Weaver).

Though it's incredibly well-meaning, Holes never quite works mostly because it just tries to do too much. Aside from the primary storyline involving Stanley's exploits at Camp Green Lake, there are two flashback stories that are more of a distraction than anything else. One, involving the curse, is a complete waste of time as it doesn't really add anything to the story (and features a terrible performance by Eartha Kitt). The other one, featuring a romance between a schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) and a local handyman (Dule Hill), does eventually turn out to have something to do with the rest of the film, but by that point it's almost impossible to care. Even the primary storyline seems to finally run out of ideas, as it eventually becomes an adolescent version of Gerry - with Stanley and a camp buddy wandering through the desert.

It's a film that could've benefited from some judicious editing (at close to two hours, the movie occasionally borders on interminable), because there's far too much going on here. Director Andrew Davis does a commendable job of ensuring the whole thing never becomes confusing, but that's not enough to hold the interest of most viewers. Holes will surely work a heck of a lot better for those who've read the book, which is no doubt a lot more cohesive and comprehensive - especially when it comes to the backstory.

Still, the film does boast some superb performances, with relative unknown LaBeouf surprisingly effective in the central role. He's got a naturalistic style of acting and never seems as though he's merely reading lines out of a script; a trait that's not entirely common among young performers (Frankie Muniz, I'm looking in your direction). The other kids at the camp are fine, if completely interchangeable. But it's Voight who leaves the biggest impact on the film. Sporting a ridiculous toupee and speaking with a Southern accent, Voight's over-the-top performance is probably the most enjoyable aspect of Holes - an otherwise unmemorable kids flick.

out of