Holes (2003) — Shia LaBeouf transforms land into land with holes

“Once upon a time there was a magical place where it never rained, the end.”

Justin’s rating: 4 out of 5 Mutants recommend workcamps for kids. Ya know, builds character.

Justin’s review: Holes made me thirsty. Maybe it was the three hundred squirming, heat-producing children in the theater audience, but a more likely culprit was the film’s setting, a desert juvie workcamp where convicted teens dig large holes in the dusty dirt. Whatever the case, by the film’s end my mouth felt as parched as if I spent a month out in the wilderness, and only the oasis of the concessions stand saved me from certain peril.

Even risking as much dehydration as the human body can stand within a two-hour period, I was mostly glad to have seen Holes. I almost didn’t. The movie trailer — which I saw about ten times before various other films — was a muddled puzzle of non-information. It didn’t tell you the plot at all (in fact, it wasn’t until I saw the movie that I found out that the film’s setting was a prison), it changed tones about four times, and said “based on the best-selling classic” as if that meant something to an adult not currently up to date on best-selling classic children’s novels.

Let me clear up the plot to you, then. Stanley (Shia LaBeouf) is an unlucky loser-type who winds up on the wrong side of the Texan legal system after accidentally being caught with stolen shoes. Let this be a lesson to you kids: if you do drugs, you’ll probably get probation, but if you are mistakenly caught with someone’s shoes, you get 18 months hard time, no appeals allowed.

At Green Lake “Camp,” Stanley encounters a mopey group of boys who do their time by digging holes. Every day the guards make the kids dig one hole each five feet deep and five from sides to sides, covering the entire dry lake bed with enough pock-marks to resemble a losing battle of acne. It seems like a pointless and depressing sentence, until Stanley begins to figure out that there’s a reason for these holes. Yes, indeed, they’re trying to dig to China. They’ll never expect an attack from underneath!

No, actually the reason has to do with many separate flashback stories, where Stanley’s past collides with the camp’s and other people’s history. While the novel kept a lid on the secret twists until the time came to reveal them, this movie doesn’t trust its children viewers to figure things out without having to hit them over the head a few dozen times with the Hammer of Foreshadowing. Walking out of the theater, I saw too many kids rubbing their noggins, a sad sign of pandering filmmakers.

At times funny and fascinating, Holes goes on for a little too long, and becomes one slightly convoluted modern tall tale. Everyone gives passable performances, with the exception of Jon Voight, who is my personal hero for stepping into a standard bad guy henchman role and hamming it up past the point of no return. It’s like God wanted to create a sum of all cranky and scary-looking uncles in one man, and then make him a movie star.

While it deals with some deeper adult themes amidst its drawl storytelling (including a tale of racism and lynching), this is a suitable movie that will keep both kids and parents entertained without causing too much restlessness on either end.

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