I was pleasantly surprised with the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010), and found its sequel, Rodrick Rules (2011), harmless. Now, I feel more or less the same with the franchise’s latest installment, Dog Days. However, there comes a time when the luster starts to wear off. The first film was irreverent and sometimes strange, as we followed our hero — the self-centered Greg (Zachary Gordon, who’s now beginning to look a bit too old for this role) — as he learns to stop being an adolescent jerk. The second followed the same formula, but came off just a bit less odd. Now that we’ve come to part three, all of the original charms are mostly evacuated, but Greg’s still an obnoxious twit. (You can understand why this doesn’t quite stack up.)
This time around, Greg has to figure out a way to survive his summer vacation, which mostly involves him lying to his parents and friends so he can hang out at a country club with his schlubby best friend, Rowly (Robert Capron). Like the first two movies, this film moves in between comedic set pieces, centered around some slapstick and Greg screwing up somehow. Besides a painfully dumb bit involving a locker room full of hairy, naked adults, very little of the comedy falls into the gross-out category (making Dog Days good-natured in this sense). After all, there’s eventually a lesson to be learned from all this: don’t be a manipulative, self-centered jerk to everyone around you. Sure, that’s a perfectly reasonable way to live one’s life, but when your main character can’t seem to remember this after two movies, it’s hard to really give a damn, and the lesson hardly seems worthwhile a third time around.
Occasionally, however, the movie gets things right. Its view of family and friendship are surprisingly realistic, with the gist being that a family may not always get along, but they’re there when they need to be. Beyond that, there’s the inclusion of T. Rex’s “Celebrate Summer” on the soundtrack, but it also comes across as the last gasps of a director trying to put a personal stamp on work that’s terribly blasé. This might be Dog Days’ most unfortunate facet. Director David Bowers — who started off with Aardman, has made some good kid’s stuff like Astro Boy (2009) and Flushed Away (2006) — has little ability to spruce up the proceedings. Perhaps Bowers (who cut his teeth in animation) just isn’t made for the world of live action. There’s a superfluous feel to the entire film that nearly cripples its inherently well-meaning nature. While I can’t pan Dog Days as simple family entertainment, I certainly can’t recommend it either. Rated PG for some rude humor.