Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, the third film based on the popular book series, begins much like the other two, with enough gross-out humor to fill an entire movie in the span of a few minutes. Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), his brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and their parents, Frank (Steve Zahn) and Susan (Rachael Harris), show up at the public pool where they encounter all kinds of nasty people and events. The men’s locker room is filled with fat, hairy men walking around in their own filth and picking their toes, the kids outside are peeing in the pool with smiles on their faces and Greg’s baby brother, Manny (played by twins Connor and Owen Fielding), is in the bathroom washing his hands with a urinal cake. These early moments don’t promise better things to come, but much like the second and best film in the series, Rodrick Rules, Dog Days picks up. Although it never fully strays from its gross-out aspects (a later scene involving a pot roast already munched on by the dog comes to mind), it begins to focus more on character relationships and the importance of family. In the end, the movie has an important message for kids and even when it’s surrounded by disgusting moments like those mentioned, it’s a good one to hear.
The story this time follows Greg as his crush on his pretty schoolmate Holly Hills (Peyton List) heightens and he attempts to win her over. It’s finally summertime and the kids have a full three months ahead of them to do whatever they want. Greg initially plans to sit inside and play video games all day every day, but his father wants him to do something productive and bans video games for the summer. Greg quickly finds refuge in best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) who happens to be a member of the local country club. Luckily, Holly is also a member, so Greg decides to head there every day as Rowley’s guest to get closer to her. To justify all the time he’s spending there, he puts on a ruse with his family, telling them he nabbed a job. Proud of him, they let him be, but his deception won’t last forever and he’ll quickly learn that disappointing his parents is more painful to him than any real punishment.
That is essentially the message of the film, or at least one of them. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days has good intentions, but it puts too much on its plate and fails to make a single significant impact because of it, instead opting to make tiny impacts that will most likely fade away with time. The movie is about not betraying your parents’ trust, but it’s also about owning up to your mistakes and not letting others take the fall for you when you do something dumb. It’s also a coming-of-age tale about growing into your own and finding the courage to talk to that pretty girl you’re crushing on. It’s a number of things in one and while none of them are poorly presented, neither are they fleshed out as much as they should be.
Just when one story is gaining ground, the movie abruptly switches to another, which is bad on a thematic level and causes much of its meaning to dissipate, but nevertheless, in doing so, it gives every character ample screen time. Just like the previous movies, Dog Days admirably juggles its eclectic cast of characters, none of whom seem like they’re being neglected (with the exception of Fregley, played by Grayson Russell, who isn’t nearly as prominent in the goings-ons as he was previously). Characters and themes are two of the most important aspects of films—themes to carry the meaning and characters to bring forth that meaning. Dog Days juggles one better than the other, an odd problem given that the two go hand in hand, but there you have it.
Of course, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days isn’t meant for me and I imagine most kids will have a good time watching it, but that doesn’t make moot its shortcomings, which also include a lead actor who is beginning to be too old for the role and a message about not spending all summer playing video games that occurs during shameless plugs of Sony’s new handheld video game system, the Playstation Vita. Nevertheless, it has a good heart and though it’s messages may not stick with children when it’s over, one has to give it credit for having those messages at all. It’s a disappointment coming after the much better sequel that realistically tapped into sibling relationships, but it’s worthy of a mild recommendation all the same.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days receives 2.5/5