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Film review: Holes

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Depending on your point of view, "Holes" either refers to a clever plot device that helps fuel this adventure-fantasy, or it could be the main problem with the film's plot.

There's no doubt about how it will be taken by the movie's obvious target audience — young adults who have read the best-selling novel by Louis Sachar. After all, the screenplay was written by Sachar himself. Fortunately, however, the film also hits all the right notes for those who haven't read the book.

The main messages here — one about accepting outsiders and another about hard work paying off in the end — are both quite welcome. And the film has sort of a pleasant "Goonies" vibe to it.

"Holes" is not a perfect film. A sudden shift in tone from playfulness to deadly seriousness is a bit disconcerting, and there's a grotesque cartoonishness to some of the proceedings.

Still, there's no denying how terrific the performances are by the film's cast, especially Shia LaBeouf (from the Disney Channel's "Even Stevens"), who stars as Stanley Yelnats IV, whose family members believe they've been cursed by a Gypsy from generations past.

That curse seems all too real when Stanley is falsely accused of stealing shoes from a famous athlete — which leads to his being given a choice: go to jail or serve time at Camp Green Lake, a misleadingly named rehabilitation facility for teens, which is located in the west Texas desert.

There, the camp's "counselors" (Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Blake Nelson) have the boys digging holes "to build character." In reality, the trio is having the teens dig holes to look for treasure that was buried decades before by an outlaw (Patricia Arquette).

For the boys, it's not just exhausting work, it's also dangerous, thanks to the poisonous snakes and lizards in the area. And unfortunately, Stanley's only friend is the mop-haired mute Zero (Khleo Thomas), who's a whiz at digging.

This sort of material may seem to be an odd choice for director Andrew Davis, whose best-known for the smash hit "The Fugitive." But he brings a certain air of menace to the proceedings that makes it work.

The whole cast seems to be having fun, especially Voight, who wears an outrageous pompadour hairpiece and a thin moustache that he's perilously close to twirling as he chews up the scenery.

"Holes" is rated PG for some mild vulgar humor (bodily functions and odors), violence (gunfire, as well as a scuffle) and scattered use of some mild profanities (religiously based). Running time: 111 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com