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Young Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) is seriously unlucky, said to be the result of an old family curse. When he is accused of stealing a pair of sport shoes, and sent to Camp Green Lake for juvenile offenders, his bad luck turns to high adventure. At this Camp in the dried up bed of the lake, the boys spend their days digging holes. One a day. Nobody knows the reason, except The Warden (Sigourney Weaver), whose henchmen Mr Sir (John Voight) and Dr Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson) run the place like a concentration camp. But in this arid environment, Stanley's friendship with the pint sized Zero (Khleo Thomas) blossoms and one day they get the chance to break out - but the hostile terrain is its own prison. Stanley must find a way to break the family curse if he is to survive.

Review by Louise Keller:
Sigourney Weaver as a Warden who paints her nails with rattlesnake venom; Jon Voight as the pot-bellied camp overseer who looks a bit like a rattlesnake himself; an eccentric inventor on the brink of 'no stink' sports shoes; an ancient family curse that began with the stealing of a pig; a young protagonist sent to dig holes in the middle of the desert. Yes, the characters from Louis Sachar's acclaimed children's book are as colourful as any you will meet in the Harry Potter series, and the screenplay makes for an amusing, intriguing, surprising and mostly entertaining romp.

A story about redemption and making right the wrongs of the past, it's about young juveniles sent to a camp in the middle of nowhere as an alternative to prison, and set to work digging mysterious holes. On the promise that if they find anything 'interesting', they will get the day off, we quickly realise that it must be something quite specific that makes the Warden and her offsider Mr Sir so obsessed. Especially when Stanley's find of a perfectly preserved fossil is discarded and dismissed instantly. The best part of the film is the wacky mood that is created by all these unlikely characters.

We immediately warm to Stanley Yelnats IV (his first name is his surname backwards), who is brought to life by a wonderful new talent Shia LaBeouf. A young Dustin Hoffman with pragmatism and a sense of humour, LaBeouf is a natural, and Stanley makes an unlikely hero, as he befriends Khleo Thomas's cute-as-pie 'Zero' (so named for his intellect), stands up for his rights and makes brave and mature decisions. The flash backs and integration of the backstory with Kissin' Kate Barlow and Sam the onion seller is confusing at times, and it's not until the end of the film, that we really understand where Eartha Kitt's witch-like seer, and the thumb-of-God rock formation fit in.

The real stars are the young boys, whose antics and game-playing are highly entertaining, while Weaver, Voight, Patricia Arquette, Dule Hill and Tim Blake Nelson thrive on their larger-than-life caricature-like characters. The film loses its grip at one point and it is a tad too long, but there's fun to be had in the melange of this unlikely group of incongruous characters. Onion-lovers will find yet another reason to munch into them, and lovers of a good old-fashioned yarn will warm to this madcap adventure that has its heart in the right place.

Published April 8, 2004

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CAST: Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson, Khleo Thomas, Jake M. Smith, Byron Cotton, Brenden Jefferson, Miguel Castro, Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler, Siobhan Fallon Hogan

DIRECTOR: Andrew Davis

SCRIPT: Louis Sachar (novel by Louis Sachar)

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen 16:9



DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2004

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