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Entries in steve zahn (2)

Friday
Aug032012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

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

Friday
Mar252011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Last year’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a film I’ve all but forgotten. I didn’t review it and saw it only because I had time to kill in between two work related appointments away from home. I watched it in a passive state with my critic brain turned off. Consequently, all I remember is that I didn’t like it, though I can’t recall why. The sequel, however, is a winner. It’s not an amazing film and only makes a gradual step forward, but if it continues to do so, by the time we reach the fifth book adaptation, we might be in for something worth remembering.

A year has passed since the last film and Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is now in 7th grade and no longer the victim of upperclassmen abuse. He still has to contend with his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), however, who finds pleasure in making Greg miserable. Aware of this, their mother (Rachael Harris) makes them a deal, hoping they will bond as a result of it. For every hour they spend together, she will give them one dollar, but kids never take the easy route and they end up scamming her, which leads to some unfavorable results.

When Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules begins, the local skating rink is holding a back-to-school night with a sign out front that says “Welcome back 7th graders.” But kids will be kids and a couple of pranksters rearrange the letters so that it says “More lame 7th graders.” This poses a couple of problems. For starters, who knows where that extra “R” came from, but more importantly, it was the first joke in the film, an infantile, unfunny joke that made it appear as if I were in for a long, unpleasant sit. As the beginning ran on, it only became more worrisome, reverting back to the gross-out humor that plagued the original, only ramping it up tenfold. The inclusion of Rodrick’s immaturely named band, Löded Diper (umlaut optional) is expected, but watching a character take a bite out of a piece of pizza that was found in the trash and then pull an attached piece of gum out of his mouth is not my idea of a good time.

But then something magical happens. It begins to stray away from the childish shenanigans set by its predecessor and show some heart and intelligence. As Rodrick and Greg spend time with each other, their respect for each other grows and they form a mutual partnership, even if it does spawn from defrauding their mother. They begin to share things with each other, like Rodrick’s tips for living an easy life, which includes pretending you’re not good at something to get out of doing it (like washing the car). These scenes establish a real relationship between the two brothers and prove that even though siblings don’t always get along, they are always there for each other. Greg and Heffley love each other and show that love in their own various ways, even if they never vocalize it.

Of course, the events leading up to (and interspersed between) that bond are relatively mean-spirited, full of hurtful pranks and exaggerated threats, but last time I checked, that’s what siblings do. They scream at each other and say things they don’t really mean. The film admirably juggles the reality of the situation with an endearing and truthful message, which creates an authentic, if extreme sequence of events.

There’s a lot of goofy fun to be had in Rodrick Rules if you can tune your brain to think like a child. It’s impossible not to be amused by what is essentially a parody of us all. For example, there’s a funny scene where Greg and his friend watch a horror movie called “The Foot.” It’s a ridiculous film that scares the pants off them, but we’ve all been there. Those characters will one day look back at that moment in their lives and laugh, just as we all do when we think of how absurd our fears were when we were young.

All of these reasons contribute to making the film so easy to watch. It’s smart, funny and it creates a realistic family dynamic (among all characters, not just the brothers) that is touching. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is an unexpected delight.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules receives 3.5/5