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Bad-luck tale gives families lots to dig

Stanley Yelnats shovels his way into and out of trouble in 'Holes'

You've heard the expression 'Waiting for the other shoe to drop.' Well, Stanley Yelnats didn't have to wait. Both shoes dropped at once, a pair of athletic shoes that once belonged to a baseball great. They fell from the sky, knocked him down and got him arrested almost before he was on his feet again. Convicted of stealing them, Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake in the Texas desert, where there is no lake.

But there are a lot of holes. The not-so-happy campers each have to dig one a day, under the grim supervision of the ill-tempered Mr. Sir. The boys are at constant risk of being bitten by rattlers, stung by scorpions, killed by the dreaded yellow spotted lizards or, worst of all, meeting the warden.

A lot of stories work themselves out in Disney's entertaining film of Louis Sachar's award-winning children's book 'Holes.' Sachar adapted his book and did a nifty job fitting it all in. The interrelated stories, spanning three time periods and two continents, are cleverly interwoven so that kids won't be confused and grownups won't be bored.

You can make up your own joke to explain how director Andrew Davis came to a kids' movie from doing action stuff with Chuck Norris ('Code of Silence') and Steven Seagal ('Above the Law,' 'Under Siege'). It was good action stuff, but a joke is more the way you'd describe what became of Davis' career when he followed his blockbuster hit 'The Fugitive' with the likes of 'Steal Big, Steal Little,' 'Chain Reaction' and 'Collateral Damage.'

Davis does just fine here, though, trusting his tale and keeping it brisk. Best of all, he trusts his audience, from the youngest to the oldest (of course, most teenagers wouldn't be caught dead at a Disney movie). 'Holes' isn't dumbed down or juiced up, except for an annoying soundtrack apparently designed by the marketing department to produce hits on a variety of charts.

And the cast should delight the book's fans and newcomers as well. Shia LaBeouf isn't chubby like the book's Stanley, but he's dweeby enough while suggesting the resourcefulness beneath the 16-year-old's awkwardness. Khleo Thomas is the put-upon Zero, smallest of the campers but full of surprises.

Grownups should be especially pleased with the villainy. Sigourney Weaver is the fearsome warden, who wields the phrase 'Excuse me?' like a deadly weapon. Tim Blake Nelson (Delmar in 'O Brother, Where Art Thou') is the unctuous counselor, Dr. Pendanski. And no scene is safe with Jon Voight around to steal it as the hilariously grizzled Mr. Sir. With his squinty features, pencil mustache and towering pompadour, he suggests Ronald Reagan as a hillbilly gigolo. Drawling around a mouthful of sunflower seeds, he serves up the ham with a mustardy tang.

It's fun. And if you can't persuade the kids to go, just tell them it's a dirty movie. That's the hole truth.