Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There is something disturbing and unreal about a story that is so convoluted and incredulous that dressing it up as a kids film, with the Walt Disney brand name, is not a clever idea.

Stanley (Shia LaBeouf) is walking down the street one day when a pair of spanking new sneakers drops out of a clear blue sky onto his head. He is arrested for stealing the shoes and sent to a juvenile correction centre in the middle of a desert in Texas. This place is run by a collection of idiots and nasties, who force the boys to dig holes in the sweltering sun. The other kids bully Stanley, with the exception of Zero (Khleo Thomas), who is the smallest and, until now, mute.

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The conditions in this camp are horrendous. You would have thought that the authorities might have checked out the facilities of what is, in all intents and purposes, a prison for under age offenders, at which the only activity is an exhausting, pointless exercise in manual sand excavation. Rather than stay with the prisoners and relate their tedious squabbles, the film flashes back to a time when the desert was a lake.

Everyone loved the schoolmarm (Patricia Arquette), especially the no-good son of the landowner and a young black man, called Sam (Dule Hill), who brought wild onions from the mountains and jars of peaches to sell. Sam is a really good person and you know what happens to really good people when they're coloured in stories of the old South. The schoolmarm changes her profession and becomes an outlaw, called Kissin' Kate Barlow.

There is a connection between then and now, even for Stanley, whose great grandfather was involved for a moment with Kissin' Kate in them far off adventurous days and you begin to realise why these kids are digging holes. The Warden (Sigourney Weaver) at the camp is a direct relative of the no-good son of the landowner and rumour has it that Kissin' Kate buried a fortune in stolen gold somewhere in the neighbourhood.

Jon Voight, as the camp commandant, or second in command under the mean spirited Warden, overacts to a point of absurdity. He's called Mr Sir and goes around tormenting the children like a Texas equivalent of Wackford Squeers. The other adult, Dr Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson), is some kind of counsellor, whose ineffectuality is supposed to be funny.

What on earth Weaver thinks she's doing in such a tangled mess is difficult to understand. The director, Andrew Davis, made his name with action thrillers (The Fugitive, Under Siege). This is a teenage comedy of sorts, definitely not his forte. Somewhere down the line bad decisions have been made and the result is plain to see. Henry Winkler (The Fonz) appears as Stanley's inventor dad. He's attempting to find the cure for smelly shoes. Phew!

Zero has the right idea. He tries not to get involved.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2003
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Holes packshot
Teenagers dig holes in the Texas desert while doing time at a correctional camp for naughty boys.
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Director: Andrew Davis

Writer: Louis Sachar, based on the novel by Louis Sachar

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson, Shia LaBeouf, Dule Hill, Khleo Thomas, Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler, Duke Hill, Jake M Smith, Byron Cotton, Brenden Jefferson, Miguel Castro, Max Kasch, Noah Poletiek, Scott Plank, Eartha Kitt, Nathan Davis, Siobha

Year: 2003

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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