Stanley Yelnats is unlucky, always has been, always will be,
All because his great-great-granddad broke a promise long ago.
When a pair of famous shoes fall from the sky, he’s branded guilty
For their theft and sent away to pay the debt he’s said to owe.
Camp Green Lake is hardly green, a dried-up, dusty desert basin,
Full of juvenile delinquents boasting nicknames none can shake.
Everyone digs daily holes to “build their character” and chasten,
But they must beware of lizards, deadlier than any snake.
Mr. Sir and “Mom” Pendanski supervise the rowdy felons,
And when Stanley finds a trinket, Warden Walker joins the site.
Stanley also bonds with Zero, called the emptiest of melons,
And instructs the homeless boy on how to read and how to write.
In a moment of contention, Zero flees, to death most likely,
And soon after Stanley follows in the hopes of finding him.
They find refuge on a mountain, where the curse is broken rightly.
Feeling lucky, both sneak back to burrow further on a whim.
There, amid a swarm of lizards, they discover buried treasure,
Robbed from Stanley’s great-grandfather by a tortured femme fatale.
Though the warden hopes to claim it, Stanley clutches it with pleasure,
As his thriving family’s lawyer rescues him from this locale.
As he and Zero split the loot, with luck at last upon their side,
Camp Green Lake enjoys the change new management and rain provide.

Holes could easily have been another lame Disney Channel movie, but the filmmakers put surprising effort into adapting Louis Sachar’s award-winning novel into a mature and entertaining family film. Before Holes, Shia LaBeouf was only known as Louis Stevens on Disney Channel’s Even Stevens, for which he won an Emmy, but this film cemented him as an up-and-coming actor with real potential. Though The Greatest Game Ever Played is his best single performance, his quiet, agreeable role as Stanley Yelnats IV is the pillar upon which all the various plotlines of Holes are moored.

With disparate elements all converging with ingenious precision, Holes is storytelling at once intricate and coherent, like a kid-friendly Shawshank Redemption. Flashbacks range from Latvian curses to forbidden Old West love, and as long as viewers are paying attention, it never gets confusing. Aside from a few hasty transitions, this is how flashbacks should be done. So much is covered in just under two hours: poisonous lizards, kissing outlaws, hog growth, Eartha Kitt laughing, smelly shoes, peaches and onions, palindromic monikers, obsessed searches, punkish camaraderie, desert loneliness, false accusations, fate, love, destiny! Not many films touch on so many subjects and boast a similarly diverse and striking soundtrack.

While most of the young actors haven’t gone far in the movie biz, several notable thespians add star power, including Henry Winkler, Patricia Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson, a surly and hilarious Jon Voight as Mr. Sir, and an imposing Sigourney Weaver in the unusually shady role of Warden Walker. Her abrasive catchphrase is a small detail onto which my VC latched as a memorable character trait. As capable as the cast is, the true star is the story, which ends with a rewarding and smile-worthy conclusion that wraps up its sundry plot threads beautifully. Though not all of Shia LaBeouf’s film choices have been well-received, his first in Holes remains a high-point among book adaptations and family-friendly dramas.

Best line: (Sam, a kindly onion grower, as he woos a schoolteacher with his handiness) “I can fix that.”

VC’s best line: (the Warden, indignantly and repeatedly) “Excuse me?”

Rank: 54 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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