Third movies in a series are generally lackluster and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is no exception. This is not to say that the film is downright bad just that it’s not very good either. Dog Days is a fairly typical Hollywood kids movie so expect the usual: overacting, butt cracks being cause for laughter, and the older generation misunderstanding the younger one. No fart jokes, though, so the film earns points for that.
The film’s main problems stem from its overall lack of narrative direction. To be fair, this is a movie about summer vacation, which has never had very much direction in itself. So, much like a summer vacation, the film plays out in a series of loosely strung together comic vignettes linked by lead character Greg’s (Zachary Gordon) two goals: befriending Holly Hills (Peyton List) and feigning productivity so he can slack off and play video games. But the film never chooses which of these is to be the main plotline until the final third when an actual conflict is introduced. Without a driving force behind them, the first two acts flounder, as what’s at stake isn’t quite clear. Meanwhile, the third act feels rushed with a conflict that’s resolved not twenty minutes after it’s introduced.
The cast does an okay job in their third run with the characters, but they never quite shine. However, even without amazing performances everyone is likeable enough to get the job done. Steven Zahn (Treme), who plays Greg’s father, snags a few laughs with his loud albeit not so subtle style. He’s more realistically silly than annoyingly hammy so he’s always welcome on screen.
The only truly irksome thing about Dog Days is the way it actually resolves the conflicts. To get the girl Greg has to do very little, and to get his father’s respect he does even less. “Everybody makes mistakes, son. Even me,” Greg’s dad explains to him. “You just have to be able to say you’re wrong when you mess up.” Greg takes this to heart and the next time he messes up he takes responsibility, and, having seen this, his father accepts him. At face value this is actually very sweet – the father embracing his son despite his flaws – but what exactly is this ending meant to suggest? Probably nothing, but let’s examine it nonetheless.
Greg never actually learns from his mistakes in this film. He keeps causing trouble and getting up to no good but gets away with it all by simply learning to take responsibility for things when he’s wrong. Then, on the opposite side, the other characters seem to simply accept Greg for being, well, a failure. Sure, acceptance is a beautiful thing but films should inspire people to greatness not mediocrity. Admittedly, this is a radical interpretation and unlikely what the filmmakers wish to imply. Yet, when examined, this is where the film leaves us; all Greg’s half-baked plans fail and in the end his lack of hard work somehow gets him what he wants.
Thematic concerns aside, the honest truth Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is not for critics. It’s a Hollywood movie about kids trying to slack off and enjoy their summer. It might not be that original and it’s probably not going to change any lives, but it’s fun.