Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
It is the end of the school year and Greg (Zachary Gordon), like a lot of boys his age, is excited at the prospect of playing video games all day for three months. Instead, he knows that this dad (Steve Zahn) will come up with ways for him to play outside and spent time with actual human beings, so Greg formulates a plan in order for this not to happen. Naturally, his ideas backfire. When offered an unpaid internship at his dad’s job, he comes up with a lie about having been hired in a country club where his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), frequents along with his crush, Holly Hills (Peyton List).
Based on Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, “The Last Straw” and “Dog Days” having been sewn together in one screenplay by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, the film is able to retain the most basic level of charm embedded in the series but there are a handful of moments when it is an unpleasant experience to watch because it struggles to get into the comedic and dramatic rhythms of showing Greg’s awkward summer vacation.
The events that take place in the country club are consistently funny while the happenings at home are hit-or-miss. When Greg decides to pretend to know how to play tennis just to spend time with Holly, it is an increasingly uncomfortable situation because it slowly becomes evident that Greg knows nothing about the sport. For example, when Holly announces, “fifteen-love,” Greg interprets it as “fifteen, love.” He is overjoyed while we are embarrassed for him. We come to expect his fib to blow up in his face. However, things do not always turn out what we expect. Meanwhile, the Heffley family gets a dog which feels tacked on. The new pet is adorable but gets into a lot of mischief. However, the new member of the family gets such a short screen time that the subplot does not seem to have that of a big impact on Greg’s misadventures.
What I found incredibly boring was the wilderness camp. Except for its last couple of minutes, it feels too detached from Greg’s struggle to have a genuine connection with his well-meaning father. While the country club has its share of laughs, this should have been the point where the drama comes into play. Greg and Frank are more alike than they realize. It is a shame that the writers are not able to find a way for these two characters to bridge their differences in a genuine and memorable way. Instead, it gets mired with cheap laughs like people falling over and tents being set on fire. Why not allow Frank to get really angry with his son for being so selfish sometimes? At least that is more challenging–and realistic–than just giving the audiences tired gags done better in other mediocre comedies.
Just because the source material is presented in a comic book form, does not mean that the scenes that make up the picture should feel that way. For Greg’s story to be believable and relatable, it must have an arc and cohesion. With a major rewrite, mostly excising half of its subplots, coupled with David Bowers’ guidance to adapt to a more focused script, it might have had a chance to become more than just a romp toward “This summer, I learned X because Y happened.” Otherwise, its many attempts to make us laugh or care feel sophomoric and shallow.