DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL. Starring: Jason Drucker, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, Charlie Wright, and Wyatt Walters. Directed by David Bowers. Rated PG (Mild crude humour and coarse language). 91 min.
This American comedy is the fourth movie in the film series that began with "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog days" in 2012, and is the seventh episode in the series of the popular Wimpy books written by Jeff Kinney, the American cartoonist. It is intended as a sequel to the 2012 film, and new actors take the key roles. The film begins, and ends, and in between shows Kinney's cartoons.
Greg Heffley is Wimpy (Jason Drucker) and his parents are Susan (Alicia Silverstone) and Frank (Tom Everett Scott). Susan and Frank decide to celebrate great grandmother, Meemaw's, 90th. birthday, and they travel by road on "a journey across the USA" with mishaps all the way to Indiana, Indianapolis. Wimpy, his parents, his older (difficult) brother, Roderick (Charlie Wright), and young Manny (Wyatt Walters) journey together in the family car, which never quite makes it.
Indiana, however, also happens to be the city that is hosting a huge video-gaming convention, and Wimpy's idol, Mac Digby, is there to try to break the world record for video gaming.
Wimpy is desperate to join Digby in his action video, so as to resurrect his reputation which he thinks has been damaged irreparably by an embarrassing incident involving a baby's diaper that happened to him years before. A video recording of the incident has gone viral, and Wimpy wants to be photographed with a famous figure like Digby to overcome the personal agony that he feels.
On the way to Indiana, unfortunate things happen. Young Manny, for instance, wins a baby pig at a local fair, and the pig is very poorly toilet trained. The pig misbehaves in the family car, the children rebel against their mother's behaviour, and the family's car is destroyed.
This is a movie that is poorly scripted, and one that substitutes situational, physical comedy for the wry tone and charm of the original 2012 film. Much of the comic timing of its characters is off, and many of the jokes are toilet-related. The film's crudity takes away from the social bite of the original 2012 film.
There are some good scenes, but they are relatively hard to find. One is the movie's effective, light parody, of the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, "Psycho" (1960), and the attack by the seagulls in Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963). Another is its depiction of the behaviour of Susan, who insists on a total technology ban so as to allow family sing-alongs and communal word games that she thinks her children will enjoy much better. As far as the latter is concerned, it is impossible to think that most parents would not raise a knowing smile.
The film is curiously caught between using narration as a device, and engaging in straight story-telling. From time to time, Wimpy describes things as the movie goes along, but the film is clearly intended as a story about his own experiences in growing up. The use of the two approaches is only partially successful, and Charlie Wright over-acts as Roderick.
After considerable chaos, harmony descends; good lessons are learnt; and Greg matures. The final outcome unquestionably brings the "family closer together", but everything happens a little too late for the film's comforting words of family warmth to have a great deal of impact.
Overall, the movie is a crude sequel to the 2012 film that misses the charm of Jeff Kinney's
original cartoon characters. Wimpy addicts may not be put off by the result, but others will find, under David Bowers' heavy-handed direction, only the occasional reason to smile and to laugh.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Twentieth Century Fox
Released June 22nd., 2017