Maybe I’m just not paying attention, but I’ve seen three of these movies now, and I still fail to see exactly how the Greg Heffley character is wimpy. The definition of a wimp is a coward, a weakling, and an unadventurous soul. This does not adequately describe him – not, at least, according to how he’s presented in the films (having not read any of Jeff Kinney’s original books, and with no plans to ever read them, there’s no way for me to know). A more fitting description would include phrases like unlucky, irresponsible, naïve, accident prone, and just a touch insensitive. I’d say he has a tendency to overdramatize, but that wouldn’t be fair given the fact that all the characters in these stories are heightened to the point of almost total unbelievability. It wasn’t all that cute to start with, and now that they’re entering their teen years, it will only get even less cute.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days sees Greg (Zachary Gordon) on summer vacation, which isn’t to say he’s given a vacation from the embarrassing situations he repeatedly puts himself in. When a family comedy takes place during the summer, which almost always involves swimming pools, you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point some character will (1) lose his bathing suit and (2) frantically exit the pool when all the other kids look as if they’re about to pee right in the water. Rest assured, Greg will find himself in both predicaments. The only obvious summer gag that isn’t included is someone getting sunburned. And to think of all the wasted opportunities for skin slapping and spelling out messages with sunblock; none of that would have made the film any more enjoyable, but at least the filmmakers would be giving audiences exactly what they’re expecting.
The plot is not especially dense, although it might seem that way to younger crowds considering the sheer quantity of Greg’s misadventures. It boils down to just three things: He will pursue Holly Hills (Peyton List), the schoolgirl he has a crush on; he and his father Frank (Steve Zahn) will desperately try to find some common ground; his longstanding friendship with the innocent Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) will be put to the test yet again. Along the way, he will have encounters with several familiar characters, including the overly aggressive Patty Farrell (Laine MacNeil), the bizarre Fregley (Grayson Russell), and the shrimpy Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar). And then there’s Greg’s well meaning but uncool mom Susan (Rachael Harris), his baby brother Manny (Connor and Owen Fielding), and his teenager brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who gets increasingly buffoonish with every new sequel.
Rodrick is the subject of his own subplot in which he tries to woo Holly’s sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh), one of those bitchy spoiled heiress stereotypes who can only put people down and complain the instant the world stops revolving around her. Rodrick hopes to win her affections by singing her favorite song at her Sweet Sixteen party. Greg, meanwhile, has been attending a country club as Rowley’s guest, in part because Holly gives tennis lessons to children there, but also because he has convinced his father that he has gotten a part time job and needs a place to spend the day. He has yet to realize that every smoothie he orders is actually charged to an account. Here enters Rowley’s father (Alf Humphreys), who has never had much of a reason to get along with Greg. Tensions between them will only increase when Greg spends the night with the Jeffersons at their summer beach house not far from the boardwalk.
Although Frank would genuinely prefer it if Greg stopped playing video games and spent the day outdoors, his decision to enlist Greg as a boy scout stems entirely from his apparently longstanding feud with his neighbor, Stan Warren (Phil Hayes), an outdoorsy competitor whose sons wrestle in the front yard. For a time, the threat of being sent to a military academy looms over Greg’s head. This subplot is about father and son learning how to communicate, although I can’t help but wonder why there wasn’t a more convincing – or, at the very least, more satisfying – way to go about it. When it’s established that both hate the same newspaper comic strip, and when it’s already known that Greg is a talented doodler and Frank is a history buff, you’d think at least one of them would put two and two together and suggest that they collaborate on a historically-based comic strip.
I mentioned much earlier that the main characters are entering their teen years. This means that, should any further sequels be produced, Greg’s comedic misadventures will become increasingly less relatable to the series’ preteen demographic. How sad will it be, watching maturing individuals continuing to fall victim to innately juvenile scenarios? I wasn’t especially fond of the original Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but at least I recognized that kids were involved and therefore had some license to act goofy. With Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, I got the sense that everyone was getting too old to perpetuate this kind of behavior. The military academy is depicted as an overly harsh place where students have their palms slapped and ears grabbed in broad daylight; although I don’t ordinarily condone that kind of discipline, it might actually do some good for the characters in this series, especially now that they’re of age.
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20th Century Fox