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FILM REVIEW: DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS
By Michael Phillips
Tribune Newspapers Critic
1 1/2 stars
Why are the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movies so much less fun, and funny, than the best of the books created by Jeff Kinney?
On the page, Kinney's illustrations, those stick-figure humiliations and angsty margin doodles allegedly drawn by the exasperated protagonist, Greg Heffley, hold the key to why "Wimpy Kid" took off with so many millions of young and angsty seekers of humiliation comedy. Perpetual, grinding setbacks and massive, why-me? preteen injustices are more amusing in stick-figure form.
Somehow all that snark, all those red-faced setbacks, turn to indistinct and slightly sour mush in a live-action setting. Kids are going to go to the films regardless. But it's too bad these movies aren't livelier.
The first two films (modestly budgeted, and rightly so) did well, so here we have "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days," a conflation of books three and four. The narrative requires fretful, dissembling Greg to lie throughout, about big things and little things, and then to pay the price, before learning a lesson or two about being a less fretful, dissembling version of himself. I found the results about as cheering as "The Dark Knight Rises," mainly because the craft is so slovenly and routine.
Greg is played once again by the talented Zachary Gordon, now with newly changed voice. It's summer vacation, and Greg wants only to spend his days video gaming. But dad (Steve Zahn) has plans to school Greg in the wonders of Wilderness Explorers camping; his mom (Rachael Harris) starts up a "Little Women" book club; and Greg's pal Rowley (Robert Capron, straight from playing young Curly in the recent "Three Stooges" movie) sneaks Greg into his country club so Greg can be around Holly (Peyton List), the nice girl who teaches tennis, and whose older sister is such a bully you keep waiting for the moment when smiling, patient Holly snaps and the police are called.
As directed by David Bowers (who did the second film), the movie never finds the heightened state of comic anxiety that fuels the books. The actors, many of them excellent, pop their eyes and prolong their reactions and their timing goes flooey. Here and there, in the father/son scenes, you see a glimmer of an honest interaction. All in all, I'd rather watch a "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" rerun.
MPAA rating: PG (for some rude humor).
Running time: 1:34.
Cast: Zachary Gordon (Greg Heffley); Devon Bostick (Rodrick Heffley); Steve Zahn (Frank Heffley); Rachael Harris (Susan Heffley).
Credits: Directed by David Bowers; written by Gabe Sachs, based on the books by Jeff Kinney, produced by Bradford Simpson and Nina Jacobson. A 20th Century Fox release.
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