Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

For each generation of children, there’s a movie with kid protagonists that rings absolutely true. For my peer group, it was The Goonies. The story was pure fantasy buttressed by a keen sense of the dynamics of childhood relationships: It wasn’t hard to imagine yourself spelunking with Corey Feldman instead of digging with the neighbors in your back yard. Holes, based on an almost-as-popular-as-Harry Potter book by Louis Sachar, displays a mastery of the Goonies formula: kids with cool nicknames looking for treasure in a remote location. (OK, the fat kid’s named Armpit, not Chunk, but close enough.) When the palindromic Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) is wrongfully convicted of stealing a pair of high-priced sneakers, he gets bused off to Camp Green Lake, an inappropriately named quasi-Stalinist desert work camp for juvenile delinquents. The staff—dominated by a rockabilly’d-out, scenery-chewing Jon Voight as overseer Mr. Sir—demands that each detainee dig a hole a day to, ahem, “build character.” Sachar adapted his book for the screen, and, along with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive), he does a remarkable job of stage-managing the novel’s narrative threads to find an almost note-perfect comedy-adventure tone. The exception to this skilled craftsmanship is the handling of a story line featuring the ill-fated interracial romance between—really—an Old West schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) and an onion peddler (Dulé Hill). In treading lightly past the racial animus that leads to the peddler’s murder, Davis and Sacher condescend to their audience. Regardless, Davis never lets the pace slacken, ensuring that for those intermediate readers who do run home to tear up the flower beds, thoughts of Barfbag & Co. won’t be far away. Holes might not reach the dizzying heights of Cyndi Lauper belting out “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” as the credits roll, but for today’s 10-year-olds, it will hardly matter. —Josh Levin