Finally, a prison movie for kids!
Director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and writer Louis Sachar (adapting his own novel) let us know right off the bat that this won’t be the usual Disney pre-teen fare with a pre-credit attempted suicide via rattlesnake bite. They earn extra points with the unusual story, which treats a “kid’s movie” in a more straightforward manner with a surprising amount of fighting, murder by gunfire and venomous reptiles (not counting Jon Voight), but ultimately their plot is full of entirely too many – digressions.
Holes tells the story of palindromic young Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf), who is sentenced to serve 18 months at a juvenile facility for stealing a pair of valuable shoes. Inmates of the Texas work camp presided over by warden Sigourney Weaver are kept constantly busy digging holes all over a dry lake bed, in order to “build character”. But the real reason for all the digging is revealed, in between scenes of Stan bonding with his fellow inmates, through a series of flashbacks showing the history of various characters, as well as that of their ancestors. It’s all a complicated webwork of coincidences worthy of cult author Harry Stephen Keeler, but the problem is that Davis dwells on the flashbacks far beyond the time it takes the audience to connect the dots.
The backstories – which include Patricia Arquette as a schoolmarm turned outlaw, and Eartha Kitt as a scary fortune teller – become annoying interruptions, leaving plenty of time for the viewer to get far ahead of Stan and his pals, who are stumbling to bring all the various plot threads to a clumsy resolution themselves. A supporting cast full of familiar character actors adds some needed juice.