In an era of 3-D children’s films with fantastical premises and CGI spectacle and supernatural protagonists, there’s something ingratiatingly modest about the life-sized, two-dimensional world of the wildly popular Diary Of A Wimpy Kid books and movies. While the defiantly non-epic trilogy exaggerates the gauntlet of humiliation that faces kids in those awkward in-between years to brightly comic effect, the emotions on display are all refreshingly relatable if a tad generic. So too the film’s aggressively unremarkable protagonist (Zachary Gordon), a likable Everykid whose aspirations for his summer break begin and end with playing as many video games as possible, preferably in the company of the cute classmate he has a crush on. Fate and his outdoors-minded father (Steve Zahn, adding texture and dimension to what could easily have come off as a thankless role) have other plans for Gordon, however, and his summer proceeds in ways he never anticipated.
In Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Gordon’s plans to spend his break luxuriating in air-conditioned comfort while staring blankly at various screens die a quick death when his dad bans television and video games for the summer. Even more horrifyingly, Gordon’s mother wants him to—gasp—spend the summer reading books, so the terrified youngster decides to pretend to have a job at a nearby country club as a pretext for hanging out with his chubby, endlessly ebullient best buddy (Robert Capron) and getting closer to the girl of his dreams.
Like the books that inspired it, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is an episodic, relatively disjointed ramble through a neverending string of minor embarrassments involving unintentional skinny-dipping, Civil War reenactments gone awry, and, most entertainingly, a typically ill-fated trip with Capron’s clan, a disturbingly clean-cut bunch so wholesome and suspiciously positive they come off as a one-family cult. Genial and pleasant to a fault, the film could benefit from a little more personality. Its funniest and most memorable sequence, a hilarious set piece where Gordon’s older brother (pouty-lipped Devon Bostwick, who looks unnervingly like a young version of John Lazar, the actor who played “Z-Man” in Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls) favors a Sweet Sixteen party with a swaggeringly misguided Mick Jagger-gone-tone-deaf version of a Justin Bieber song, is also the only scene that takes any chances. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid benefits from not trying too hard, but it wouldn’t hurt if it had tried just a little bit harder anyway.