DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS Review

Maybe it is that we have now grown accustomed to who Greg is that he doesn't bother me as much anymore, maybe the fact that Rowley keeps getting weirder makes me understand Greg more, but what I've really began to question, especially in this third outing for the Wimpy Kid series is why or how these two guys are friends in the first place. It is obvious that they are cut from two different cloths. Rowley is the more sheltered and privileged dork that at this point in his life still believes life is a bouquet of roses. Nothing wrong with that, but he's reaching the age that he's going to need to make a few of his own mistakes or his life is going to be a trainwreck (the kid has a fit here because he lied to benefit his best friend). On the other end of the spectrum is Greg, a middle class kid that is likely the average summation of every thirteen year-old boy out there. He loves video games, has a love/hate relationship with his older brother and is trying his best to stay on good terms with his parents. It speaks well for the series that the main protagonist is someone who the core audience of these books will be able to relate to and I have had pleasant experiences with the previous two films in this franchise, but there was something missing from the latest installment. Whether it be that Dog Days chronicles the adventures of summer rather than the events of the school year or that there is no sense of urgency to what is going on here. The film ends up feeling as lazy as the main characters desire to be during their summer break.

Greg (Zachary Gordon) and Rowley (Robert Capron)
attempt to call Greg's school crush Holly.
As the title clearly indicates this time around Greg, Rowley, and the gang are out for summer break and as far as Greg is concerned he is looking to do as little as possible. He knows his dad will expect more though, always encouraging them to play outside but never picking up a ball to play with them Steve Zahn has found himself comfortably playing the dad in these movies, but in one of the only highlights of this film, we get to see that role expanded past the standard enforcer of the house. Zahn is a gifted actor who can pull off heavier moments while remaining a true example of comedic timing. It's hard to believe the guy can even play a dad so convincingly considering some of his early roles, but as the main ideas and theme of Dog Days revolve around the father/son relationship it is nice to see the relationships develop more towards bonds than standard relationships written to abide by the standard rules of movie families. While Greg genuinely wants to make his dad proud he has also made it his mission to hang out with his crush Holly at some point during the summer. On the last day of school he almost scores her phone number through the classic year book signing move, but is left to figure out the entire number when fate intervenes and takes away the easy route. When Greg accompanies Rowley to the country club and finds Holly there teaching tennis lessons it becomes clear that Greg will stop at nothing, no matter the trouble he gets in to win time with Holly and he will inevitably damage his relationship with his best friend in the process.

Frank (Steve Zahn) introduces Greg and Rowley to his
old scout master in an attempt to help them enjoy
the good ole' fashioned outdoors.
The main issue I hold with the film is the fact it feels somewhat disjointed. It is strange in some ways because these types of movies are the ones that are the most absent minded about the criticism that may or may not even be made about them. They are live action family films, they are the genre that has been fading ever since the 90's ended. Maybe it's the fact I haven't been in the target demographic for those kinds of films since that time but it is clear the advancements in computer animation and the domination of that art form made the demand for live action films intended for children all the less necessary. There have been a few here and there throughout the past few years, but the ones that come to mind are nothing if not easily forgettable pieces that the actors cashed in a nice paycheck for and then moved on. They haven't been of a high enough quality to rival anything Pixar or Dreamworks has made and their hasn't been a box office hit of their kind since maybe Enchanted in 2007? Do you see what I'm getting at? It takes a satire of sorts of old albeit classic animated Disney hits to have had a successful live action film aimed at families. Lucky for this franchise, it had a built in audience with the wildly successful book series by Jeff Kinney. The books were a hit because they were relatable, they connected with kids who are most of the time forgotten between the birth to eight year-old age range and the pre-teens. Kinney took advantage of that and connected with this group. The movies have done an admirable job of replicating this formula, but it is clear in this third entry that time may not be on their side.

Rowley, Greg, and Holly (Peyton List) find some peace in
 their summer vacation.
While the series may be losing steam in terms of ground to cover that seems to be the least of their worries here. Dog Days has so much going on but feels like it drags along (that's not good when a film is only an hour and a half long). Yet between the father/son portions, the Greg/Holly storyline, the Greg/Rodrick storyline, and the always necessary adventures of Greg and Rowley its as if they are trying to fit everything into as many movies as they can before the kids get too old. There are some great moments in the film that include the opening scene where the Heffley's go to the public pool to break in the summer season and have clearly had the same idea as everyone else in the neighborhood. Greg is forced to walk through the public locker rooms where he gets an eyeful of mature men and then is forced to have "fun" by his parents in an overcrowded pool that is more pee than chlorine. It is the small moments of recognition such as this or when Greg's mom opens the blinds for the first time and Greg has to allow his eyes to adjust to the light before he continues playing his video games without missing a beat that elicit the most laughter. They are genuine laughs because they are true and while there are splashes of them here the first two films were filled to the brim with those humiliating yet funny moments. I like the Wimpy Kid series and in many ways think it offers they kids of today an escape from all the computer animation into something not so fantastical but instead is based in their reality. Maybe I am missing the point of it as it is not my reality anymore, but those first two films made me remember things that hadn't crossed my brain in years about my childhood. This latest film didn't manage to do that. It's means well, but not worth skipping the better fare that is certainly out there.