Third 'Wimpy Kid' Aptly Titled
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
I have not seen the two films leading up to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days": "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules." Both were adapted from popular semi-graphic novels (I think that's what they are) by Jeff Kinney. So I'm not sure how well-qualified I am to assess the latest, which chronicles the adventures of Greg Heffley, the titular wimpy kid, as he finishes seventh grade and figures out how he's gonna spend his summer vacation bereft of his beloved video games (denied via parental discipline). It's true that, like many film reviewers, both paid and unpaid, I was a "wimpy" kid myself, but that was back during the Bronze Age, so video games weren't an issue, and as for much of the rest, well, as Warren Zevon once said, "I don't wanna talk about it."
From what I can glean, this adventure follows a pattern familiar to the books and to certain tween narrative amusements in general. The amiable Greg has to navigate family concerns: a dad he's forever disappointing, a chirpy mom who doesn't get him, a baby brother with a blue blanket fetish and an implied wasteoid older brother who's a rocker wannabe with a band amusingly (it's hoped) misspelled Loded Diper. He has problems with friends (his best bud, the chubster Rowley, has both attachment and touchy-feely parent issues, but also a membership at the local country club) and a school crush (the adorably perky do-gooder Holly, who only left the first five digits of her phone number in his yearbook!) while at the same time improving his own character.
He, of course, does a lot of muffing of this last requirement throughout the body of the movie, making up tall tales (or as we reformed wimpy kids call it, "lying") to gain access to certain scenarios. For instance, Greg brags to Holly that he's a veritable tennis ace, the better to get into a match with her at the aforementioned country club. Of course he's a complete failure at this, to the extent that whenever Holly calls out the pathetic score, he's under the impression that she's actually directing a term of endearment (that would be "love") his way. Finally he has to admit that his only experience with tennis would be in video game form. Only, if he played tennis video games, he would know that "love" is also a tennis-scoring term, wouldn't he?
The fact that I even noticed such nits might suggest to the reader that I did not really connect with the movie. You would be correct in inferring this. Not to get all judgmental or anything, but this wimpy kid also struck me as a bit of a twerp. I understand that you require bad behavior in order for the Great Learning to set in once the time comes, but Greg might be a bit more ingratiating if he actually had some interests besides the obvious ones. In the aggregate, he comes off merely as a Young Mr. Average who doesn't like the outdoors much.
There are a couple of clever bits here and there: The shared antipathy that Greg and his dad (poor Steve Zahn) have toward a lame "Family Circus"-style single-panel newspaper cartoon is a nice quirky touch. And the whole cast overall is appealing, particularly Peyton List, who makes the impossibly good Holly genuinely likable, and Devon Bostick, who displays real comic eccentricity as alternately bug-eyed and nodded-out older brother Rodrick. But the generic locations and light-drenched cinematography fairly scream assembly-line higher-budgeted kidvid. I don't really have a dog in this fight, honest, but I think it's possible that all tween audiences, wimpy or not, deserve better than this.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.