The third cinematic installment of the popular Jeff Kinney books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days continues following the misadventures of Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), his wannabe punk-rocker bro Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and his effortlessly sunny best pal Rowley (Robert Capron). The kids are a little older, the humor is a little less fresh, and the whole thing feels a bit tired.
This time around, the plot infuses some father-son tension as Greg tries to avoid Dad’s (Steve Zahn) plans for summer fun and inevitably ends up disappointing him. Zahn is able to take a meager role and infuse it with just enough pathos, so that looking at him you feel his sense of failure, of never living up to whatever dreams he might have had. It’s there as he waves, in his ubiquitous short-sleeve shirt and clip-on tie, to his neighbor, who is in a nice suit enjoying a pre-work moment with his three Lands End-ish looking boys. But there’s also a determination there to make good with what his family’s got, humorously depicted as the motley crew descends upon the public pool on opening day (“it’s free!” exclaims father Heffley).
The Wimpy Kid series depicts a throwback family, where the kids aren’t saddled with countless of the latest electronic gadgets. Indeed, when Greg’s parents finally deem him ready for a cell phone, it’s in the shape of a giant ladybug and only allows him to call home and 911. There’s a quality of sweetness to a camping trip poised to become an embarrassment for Greg and his nerdy friends, and overall, the movie feels like one of those early ’70s Kurt Russell Disney films. Still, Dog Days mostly misses out on the earlier movies’ relate-ability. Sure, we’ve all had an embarrassing pool incident (haven’t we?) and cringed at our parents’ behavior, but Bowers relies too much on stuff that veers into the completely weird, such as when Greg spends a very awkward (for him and us) visit with Rowley’s icky sweet parents. Gordon is still appealing as Greg hits that horrible tweener stage, making me almost want to see how he handles the next installment; at the same time, it might be a good time to call it a day.