Stanley Yelnats has a problem. For one, his last name is his first name spelled backwards. Second, the males of his family are the subject of an old curse that causes them to fail in whatever they do. So is the premise of Holes, adapted by Louis Sachar from his wildly popular young adults novel. The real treasure is that Holes is one of those rare movies that the entire family can enjoy. It trusts in knowing that kids actually have brains and can follow a complex story, especially if it pays off in the end. Just think of Holes, whose story unfolds in three time periods, as a simpler version of Possession or The Hours. The present, with Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf, Hounded, The Christmas Path) finds himself at Camp Greenlake, a desolate youth rehabilitation camp in the middle of nowhere.

The ideology at the camp, run by the Warden (Sigourney Weaver, Tadpole, Big Bad Love), Mr. Sir (Jon Voight, Ali, Zoolander), and Mom (Tim Blake Nelson, Minority Report, Cherish) is that each boy will dig a hole. Digging holes will slowly rehabilitate them, but Stanley quickly figures out that the Warden is looking for something. Stanley is at the camp because of a pair of shoes. They belonged to a star baseball player, and fell out of the sky, hitting Stanley on the head. Police believed he stole them, and he was sentenced to 18 months at the Camp. There, he meets a motley group of boys, each with their own distinctive nickname (X-Ray, Armpit, Zig-Zag...). He takes an interest in Zero (Khleo Thomas, Friday After Next), a taciturn young tent mate. Because Stanley is at heart a decent guy, the other boys initially tease him.

Sachar's script frequently jumps to the past, telling the story of how Madame Zeroni (Eartha Kitt, The Emperor's New Groove, Feast of Saints) cursed Stanley's ancestor because of a failed promise, and then jumps forward a little to talk about Kissin' Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette, Human Nature, Little Nicky), a robber who stole from Yelnats I. For those unfamiliar with the book, it is hard to see how any of these stories fit together, but Sachar and director Andrew Davis (Collateral Damage, A Perfect Murder) ingeniously weave all the strands together into a cohesive story about persistence, fate, and friendship. Davis does pander a little to the youthful audience with a fart joke here and some cheesy slapstick, but is also willing to tackle a tougher subject like interracial romance (courtesy of Dule Hill, Men of Honor, She's All That).

There are decent performances all around from the cast, with Voight and Nelson standing out. Both are actors who immerse themselves deeply into their roles, becoming almost unrecognizable at times. For Voight, they may not be the greatest roles (especially recently), but he still goes all out. The child actors are mostly unknowns, and those with experience haven't had very high profiles. They are all appealing and fun to watch. LaBeouf in particular has had little experience, but he is able to essentially carry the movie with a mixture of awkwardness and congeniality. This all contributes to something missing from many movies today, a spirit of adventure and fun.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated PG for violence, mild language, and some thematic elements.

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