With Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Peyton List, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn. Written by Maya Forbes, Gabe Sachs, Wallace Wolodarsky. Directed by David Bowers. Rated PG (for some rude humor). 94 minutes.
Jeff Kinney’s “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid” books are popular with the pre-teen set, but we’re not exactly talking a “Harry Potter” cult of personality here. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS is the third film based on the series, in this case plucking material from the third and fourth books. If you’re over the age of 12, chances are you’re already too old for these movies.
Zachary Gordon returns as Greg Heffley, the “wimpy kid” who wants to do the right thing but often screws up. In this case it’s summer vacation and he’s eager to impress Holly Hills (Peyton List), but fate keeps working against him. When his friend Rowley (Robert Capron) invites Greg to the local country club to go swimming he runs across Holly and sees a chance to make his move. Unfortunately, his overbearing older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) wants Greg to sneak him into the club, while Greg makes a series of bad choices that alienates Rowley’s family. Oh, however can it turn out?
This is sitcom material at best, and not quite as clever or well-written as similar juvenile-oriented stories on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel. Greg has trouble bonding with his dad (Steve Zahn) although they both dislike the same stupid comic strip. His father wants him to go camping, but an obnoxious neighbor makes things difficult. Holly’s sister is a spoiled brat planning her “Sweet 16” party and Rodrick’s band – Loded Diper – is hired at the last minute to play at the event. None of this is remotely clever, but if you’re 8 or 9, it may prove to be entertaining.
What was mildly amusing in the first film has gotten old at this point. Greg is a decent kid but will screw up, eventually learn his lesson and everything will be all right. Rodrick is a cartoon version of a “bad boy,” closer to a 21st century version of Eddie Haskell than an actual contemporary teenager. The parents (Zahn and Rachael Harris) don’t have a clue what’s going on with their kids. Worse, by combining two stories into one, the storyline of the Heffleys getting a dog – which one might have thought would play a major role here – is barely an afterthought.
If your youngsters enjoy the books and movies, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either. Values like paying the price when you’re not honest with family or friends, or selfish people tripping over their own egos, or of not being envious of others, are all good things for kids to learn. The warning is for parents, not for kids. “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” will likely appeal to its target audience. However, parents who are accompanying them should flip a coin, with the loser having to endure the movie.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.