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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Holes

Starring: Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver
Director: Andrew Davis
Rated: PG
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: April 2003
Genres: Kids, Suspense

*Also starring: Patricia Arquette, Khleo Thomas, Dule Hill, Henry Winkler, Allison Smith, Nathan Davis, Tim Blake Nelson, Rick Fox, Siobhan Fallon

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Dustin Putman read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
4.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

The high school I attended had a weird, even sadistic custom. If a teacher caught a kid acting up, the instructor could send the lad to Cube Hall. As a disciplinary measure, the accused would have to report to the auditorium on Saturday at 9 a.m. to do a series of cubes. A six-digit number would be assigned by the proctor and the perp would have to cube each of those numbers. He was free to go when completed, after the proctor checked the answers. Adding machines were not banned: they were not yet invented. And slide rules were woefully inaccurate. What purpose did the Cube Hall serve other than to make the inmates hostile to the school authorities? None whatever. Eventually I hear this punishment was replaced by homework study. (Whether that served any purpose is still also questionable.)

In like manner, the principal character in Andrew Davis's picture "Holes" is in a way like me back then, a 15-year-old wrongly accused of stealing a pair of celebrity basketball shoes which actually fell like manna from heaven on him, causing him to be pinched, but not by the shoes. He had a choice: 18 months in jail or 18 months in a correctional youth camp. He thought for a while that he made the wrong choice when he told the judge that he had never been to camp, but this is a Disney movie and things work out well in the end. What's important for a potential audience to know is not how things worked out in the end but how well director Davis handles Louis Sachar's screenplay, which is based on Sachar's wildly popular adolescent novel by the same name. Surprisingly, though the juvenile offenders in the movie are 15 years of age give or take a couple of years, the audience at the screening I attended in the nation's busiest theater, Loews Lincoln Square, were all either adults of children of nine years, give or take three years. Why so? I suspect that the teens might have thought that this was corny while the little ones, and presumably the older people knew better. "Holes" is done remarkably well, with humor, poignancy and most of all is a PG movie for young people that does not condescend to them. The sentimentality is minimal, the morals arising easily and naturally from the work. "Holes" is a crackerjack story about ethics, justice, and the skewed way that adults and children view one another.

The grown ups are the villains, of course, more in need of correction than their charges. Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) is a cartoonish dude with an outrageous hair style who is the overseer at the correctional facility, the bad cop, while Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson) is the counselor who, for a while, can be considered good cop. They both report to the warden (Sigourney Weaver) who seems nice but is the most wicked of all. By contrast, Stanley (Shia LaBeouf) is altogether angelic and will serve, as did the Jack Nicholson character in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," to liberate his compatriots and end the injustice of this camp.

What's particularly intriguing is the fluid way in which director Davis handles the many flashback scenes. Respectful of the brains of his young audience, he does not need to cast the flashbacks in black-and-white or some unnatural, dream-like color, but simply weaves those scenes right into the story. (From what I gathered, the 9-year-old in the audience did not say to their caretakers, "Who's that, Daddy" What happened to Stanley he disappeared, Mommy?" That is, the audience except for the father-son combo sitting behind me.) One flashback deals with the family of Stanley Yelnats IV, particularly his dad (Henry Winkler), an inventor who seeks a way to end footwear odor, and granddad (Nathan Davis) who tell him of an ancient curse of a fortune teller from a century or so ago (Earth Kitt). The other flashback deals with a teacher who was corrupted by the wrongdoing of her society and turned into a bank robber. Her name was Kissin' Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette) and what she did back then provides the real reason that the warden wants the kids to dig and dig and dig. You'll dig the reason toward the end of the story.

The desert scene reminds one of Gus Van Sant's weird movie, "Gerry," an endless space so far removed from any highway that the warden has had no worries about escapes. There's nowhere to go and anyone trying to bolt would soon collapse and be eaten by buzzards. Needless to say, there is a daring escape in the movie, one which changes Stanley from a naive kid into a man. Put the whole shebang together and you have a suspenseful, authentic, entertaining and meaty work that is genuinely of interest to people of all ages (except adolescents who might stay away thinking the movie is corny when, in fact, it's anything but).

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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