Holes (2003)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in All Play and No Work | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: May mislead children regarding interracial relationships. They probably don’t cure foot odor.

A summer camp is not merely a movie setting. It is, in fact, a subgenre of cinema unto itself – and an important one at that. The camp movie typically falls either in the realm of comedy, horror, kids, or a combination thereof. Such scary classics as Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, or underrated laughers Indian Summer and Wet Hot American Summer, for instance. But the kid-friendly end of things is surprisingly short. Camp Nowhere, Heavyweights, and Meatballs are decent, but their plots barely progress past the fun atmosphere of a summer camp, using the diverse activities, pranks, and people as springboards for morals, jokes, or advertisements. The one exception is Holes.

From the popular youth novel by Louis Sachar (who holes2also wrote the screenplay), Holes makes a sometimes scary, often mysterious, always peculiar adventure of the camp movie subgenre. And what’s even stranger is that Sachar sculpted a camp (ironically named Green Lake) out of a barren desert and counselors of three villainous adults. We find out in one of the film’s opening shots that after a few months in this hellish camp, the venomous bite of a rattlesnake looks increasingly attractive.

The movie’s hero – one of them, at least – is Stanley Yelnats, played by budding star Shia LeBeouf. Ever since his pig-stealing great great grandfather (also named Stanley Yelnats, which is his first name spelled backwards, in case you were wondering) plagued his family with a curse, the men in Stanley’s family seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And how he finds himself choosing between jail time or several months at a juvenile correction camp is a testament to just that. And as we eventually find out, his decision is both the best and the worst of his life.

The camp lies on the remnants of a lake that dried up long ago, and every day, in the hot Texan sun, the misbehaved youths must dig a hole five feet deep and five feet wide. Running the camp are idiotic supervisors Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) and Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson), or “mom,” as the boys call him, both of whom answer to the venomous Warden Walker (Sigourney Weaver, who agreed to the role after her daughter requested it). There’s no need for security, or thoughts of escape, since they have the only water for 100 miles – and they’re extremely stingy about it. But why dig? What are they searching for? “You’re not digging for nuthin,’ ” Mr. Sir says; “You’re building character.” Yet when one of the boys unearths a tube of lipstick, the adults are quite abuzz and spend the next several days concentrating the dig in that area. Hmmm …

The bigwigs assign Stanley to D Tent, where Holes3he finds unlikely friends and foes with nicknames such as Armpit, X-Ray, Zig Zag, and Zero, named as such “because there’s nothing going on in his stupid little head.” Together, the boys eat sludge, wear orange, take cold showers, and dig lots and lots of holes.

Through a series of convenient flashbacks, we learn that Stanley’s presence at the camp was written in the stars generations earlier, when the town folded at the hands of a pretty white schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) because townsfolk murdered her budding love interest, a black onion farmer (Dulé Hill). If you want to know how this affects young Stanley’s fate, you’ll have to see the amazing conclusion that ties up more loose ends (including Henry Winkler’s quest to cure foot odor) than the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels created.

Filmmakers such as Andrew Davis (the action director of Collateral Damage, The Fugitive, and Under Siege) pulled this collaboration together wonderfully, from the isolating and stark long shots to the remarkably uncheesy performances from the inexperienced actors. I was similarly impressed by the soundtrack, which catchingly combines hip-hop beats with lyrics not unlike those composed by chain gangs. Still, with all that the film does manage to pull off, I wonder what Holes would have been like if Nickelodeon accepted the original, post-apocalyptic screenplay by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko). Probably another camp submission for the horror shelf, and yet another snub for kids.

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