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"DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS"
(2012) (Zachary Gordon, Steve Zahn) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Family Comedy: On summer vacation, a suburban kid lies to his parents that he has a job at a local country club when he is really sneaking in each day to be near a girl he has a crush on.
PLOT:
Middle-schooler Greg Heffley (ZACHARY GORDON) has his summer vacation all planned out. He plans to lie around the house, eat junk food, drink sodas, and play video games. However, his father Frank (STEVE ZAHN) and mother Susan (RACHAEL HARRIS) have other ideas. Dad wants him to come to his job with him and be an unpaid office intern. Mom wants him and his best friend Rowley (ROBERT CAPRON) to join her book club and read great novels like "Little Women."

Greg jumps at the chance to be Rowley's guest at his parents' country club one afternoon. There, he discovers that his dream girl from school, Holly (PEYTON LIST), is working as a kids' tennis instructor. So, Greg convinces Rowley to sneak him in each day all the while lying to his father that he has internship at the club.

When Greg's scheming brother, Rodrick (DEVON BOSTICK), gets wind of Greg's charade, he blackmails him into sneaking him into the country club each day. Rodrick likes the free food. Even more, he likes Holly's older sister, Heather (MELISSA ROXBURGH), who he wants to date and impress with his rock-star aspirations. It all comes to a head at Heather's 16th birthday party.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Frank Heffley (Steve Zahn), the dad in the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movies, is always on his son, Greg (Zachary Gordon), to be less lazy and more ambitious. I wish he had given that same lecture a few times to the new film's director and screenwriter! They're the ones who need the good "talking-to." They're the ones who Frank needed to give the "what for" to, as my grandma used to call it.

This third chapter, subtitled "Dog Days," is short on wit, insight and...well, ambition. It's a lazy summer movie about a lazy kid's lazy summer. It's not a particularly bad movie. But it could have been so much more than just another future DVD title that parents can pop into their players and occupy their kids for 90 minutes.

Gordon once again plays the kid of the film's title, a middle-schooler who wants only to play video games and eat junk food on his summer vacation. His plan is thwarted when his dad wants him to come work with him as an unpaid intern. Greg has nightmares of being trapped in a gray cubicle with the clock ticking by oh so slowly. When he goes to his friend Rowley's country club one day as his guest, he sees his dream girl from school, Holly (Peyton List), working as a kids' tennis instructor and he gets the bright idea to lie to his parents that he, too, now works at the club.

Still in the mix, of course, is Greg's older brother Rodrick, the original master of parent manipulation. He smells Greg's con the second he springs it on Dad and the Mrs. and wants in on it - partly to get free country-club food and partly to get close to Holly's big sister, Heather (Melissa Roxburgh), who is a lifeguard at the club.

The film is episodic, for the most part, and the screenplay moves from episode to episode in disjointed fashion. Greg is kind of a pint-sized Ben Stiller in training. Or maybe he's a pint-sized Jason Biggs in training. Either way, his earnest clumsiness puts him on the brink of humiliation at least a half-dozen times throughout the film, including his swim trunks ripping off, forcing him to go al fresco in the club pool and another instance where he inadvertently sends an e-mail, then dials 911 and has his best friend's father pummeled by the cops and arrested.

If written just a bit sharper, the film could have been a really affecting father-son tale. Zahn and Gordon have a nice chemistry together, and the film's best moments come as the two try to bond. But there is no art here. It feels like one of those afternoon movies the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon strain, grunt, and squeeze out a few times a year with little in the way of production value. Given the phenomenally successful books these flicks are based on and the fact that they usually make about three times their budget, you'd think a little more effort would go into making this feel like more of a theatrical release.

Still, for its target audience, you could do worse. Yeah, Greg has a lot more fun when he is deceiving his parents and living the high life at the country club. But every lie he tells, he eventually gets caught in. There's no cursing, little in the way of sex or violence, and most of the kids are essentially good-hearted. In a crass world, that is something to hold onto. But then again, so is good direction and writing. I can't rate this much higher than a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed July 31, 2012 / Posted August 3, 2012


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