Friday, August 10, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days / ** (PG)

Greg Heffley: Zachary Gordon
Frank Heffley: Steve Zahn
Rowley Jefferson: Robert Capron
Roderick Heffley: Devon Bostick
Susan Heffley: Rachel Harris
Holly Hills: Peyton List
Fregley: Grayson Russell
Chirag: Karan Brar
Patty Farrell: Laine MacNeil

Fox 2000 Pictures presents a film directed by David Bowers. Written by Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky. Based on the book by Jeff Kinney. Running time: 94 min. Rated PG (for some rude humor).

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” is the third film in the series adapted to the screen from the popular children’s books. Don’t ask me how many of those there are. I’m sure if I were ten I would know them all inside and out, and I would anticipate the movies as if they were my only chance to win millions of dollars and live the life of my dreams. I have an eleven-year-old who does feel that way about them. He has related so many of Greg Heffley’s adventures throughout the past few years, I’m sure he would be quite disappointed at my retention rate for them. But then, they aren’t made for me. I’m not an eleven-year-old boy any more.

The plot is an episodic slice of summer life for a fourteen-year-old. Greg (Zachary Gordon reprising his role from the previous films) is in that strange transition period between 7th and 8th grades. He’s beginning to have feelings for girls, in this case the seemingly unattainable Holly Hills (Peyton List, Disney Channel’s “Jesse”).  But mostly, he wants to spend his entire summer playing video games. I gotta give it to them, they’ve got my kid down to a t.

Unfortunately for Greg, nobody else wants him to spend his whole summer playing video games, least of all his father. Steve Zahn (“A Perfect Getaway”) returns as Frank Heffley. He makes for a refreshing change to the typical movie dad. Zahn’s goofiness makes for a more relatable dad. He wants his kids to be well rounded and pushes Greg to do more with his summer than just sit in front of the television rotting his brain. This creates a great deal of tension in their relationship. Greg misinterprets this as a sign that he and his father having nothing in common. He fears Frank wishes to send him to a military school for the following school year.

Greg spends much of his time avoiding his dad by hanging out with his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron, “The Three Stooges”) as a guest at his parents’ country club. This is convenient for Greg because Holly is also a member. Greg’s older brother, Roderick (Devon Bostick, “Saw VI”), is still making trouble for him by blackmailing him into sneaking him into the club. Greg wins points, though, when he arranges to have Roderick’s band, Löded Diaper, play the sweet sixteen party of the girl he’s sweet on.

For a kid that only wants to play video games all summer long, Greg manages to squeeze about three summer’s worth of activity into three short months. He gets a dog. He joins the Wilderness Explorers. He gets his first job, sort of. He goes on a vacation with Rowley’s family. He visits the crowded public pool. And, he gets his brain scrambled on the Cranium Shaker at the boardwalk carnival. That’s quite a summer for an underachiever.

The movie does a good job relating the elements of importance to a fourteen-year-old. It picks up on good details like the differences between the public pool and the country club pool. It throws in as many elements of family life as it can. It does a good job depicting the relationships found in the family unit, such as the competition and camaraderie of brothers, and the awkward dichotomy of the buddy relationship shared between father and son.

While all of this is well and good, I can’t act as if any of it really appealed to me. It was all incredibly predictable. When Greg lied to his dad about important details of his activities, I knew he would get caught and learn a valuable lesson. None of the observations about coming of age were anything I hadn’t seen before. Even the jokes seemed like they were borrowed from years of coming of age filmmaking. There’s no reason that any of this wouldn’t appeal at the highest level to the target audience. Just ask my son. But, the parents that might be accompanying the minors for which this movie is made may wish to bring a book and a l’il reading light.

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