One of the best things about the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” franchise is the mischievous sensibilities of its title character. Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) has never been the typical cutesy and idealistic movie child. He can be arrogant, manipulative and calculating but despite his faults, he’s a memorable and realistic kid who struggles with problems most people can remember dealing with when they were younger.
In the latest film, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” Heffley grapples with something that is all too real for kids in the heat of summer– trying to figure out how to spend his vacation.
When people think of having the summer off, they often reminisce about playing outside and enjoying time with their friends. But summer for young people is much different than that. It’s a battle between doing what you want and doing what is expected of you.
The young Heffley faces this all-too-real dilemma when he plans to use his time off from school to hang out and play video games. His parents have other ideas. His father Frank (Steve Zahn) expects him to spend his time outdoors playing sports but as Greg notes admirably, he’s more of an indoor type of person.
After getting caught playing videos all day long, Heffley is forced to find another way to spend his time. His father- who has accepted his son’s athletic failures- wants Greg to take an internship with him, but Heffley rejects the idea. Instead, he finds solace at the local country club where his cutely naïve friend Rowley (Robert Capron) spends his days.
Heffley likes the open pool and the slushies that the country club provides, but his heart starts pounding when he discovers that his crush Holly (Peyton List) teaches tennis at the club. That means one thing for the young hero: he wants to spend as much time there as possible. Of course, country clubs aren’t well-suited for the trouble that Heffley brings and in order to keep going, Greg lies to his parents and tells them that he’s the club’s new employee.
Like the franchise’s earlier two entries, “Dog Days’ takes an appealing lead actor and places him in a series of adventures that will surely help him develop and grow. From an amusement park to a camp ground to the country club, Greg finds himself engaging in adventures with a crazy family that includes his over-eager mother Susan (Rachael Harris), his laid-back brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and his trouble-seeking younger sibling Manny (Connor and Owen Fielding).
No one from the Heffley clan is depicted perfectly, and even the patriarchal Frank shows that at times, he can be as rambunctious and mischievous as his children.
The “Diary” films never strive to be cinematic gifts to the universe. They’ve simply decided to tell good, family-friendly stories about a regular kid who finds himself in heaps of trouble. The stories embrace their quirky characters and their respective flaws. As we watch Rowley’s family share an ice cream cone or Frank being undermined about his ability to lead a troop of youngsters, it’s hard not to appreciate the wit and imagination of Jeff Kinney, who wrote the series of books this film franchise was adapted from.
August is usually a month when studios release some of their weaker summer entries. The newest “Kid” doesn’t fit that mold. The dog days of summer may be upon us, but this commendable franchise isn’t suffering from growing pains yet.