Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

diary-wimp-haul-rev Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul  (2017)    20th Century Fox/Comedy    RT: 91 minutes    Rated PG (some rude humor)    Director: David Bowers    Screenplay: Jeff Kinney, David Bowers and Adam Sztykiel    Music: Edward Shearmur    Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond    Release date: May 19, 2017 (US)    Cast: Jason Drucker, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, Charlie Wright, Owen Asztalos, Dylan & Wyatt Walters, Joshua Hoover, Christopher A. Coppola, Mira Silverman.

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 I never saw the other Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies. I read a couple of the books at my previous job and liked them well enough but the movies just didn’t appeal to me. I can’t say for sure why I opted to see the fourth movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. Let’s say temporary insanity.

 The first thing I had to do was get my mind around former teen hottie Alicia Silverstone playing the mom. Has it really been a quarter century since The Crush and those Aerosmith videos? Part of me kept waiting to hear her say “As if!” to her unruly clan as they embark on a road trip to join extended family in celebrating the 90th birthday of “Meemaw”. Are the Heffleys, by any chance, kin to Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory?

 diary-wimp-riseOur preteen protagonist Greg (Drucker, Every Witch Way) dreads the prospect of spending four days stuck in a car with his family which also includes well-meaning but clueless dad Frank (Scott, Parental Guidance), thick-headed older brother Roderick (Wright) and baby brother Manny (Walters) who manages to win a baby pig when the family stops at a country fair. Mom has banned ALL electronic devices on this trip; she decides the time would be better spent on card games, sing-alongs (to the Spice Girls no less) and listening to educational CDs. You know, bonding-type activities.

 Greg really wants to attend a video game convention being held in Indianapolis so he can meet his idol, an obnoxious on-line gamer named Mac Digby (Hoover, Halt and Catch Fire). He knows Mom will never go for it so he does what any red-blooded American preteen living in the 21st century would do, he reprograms the GPS when nobody’s looking. He convinces Roderick to join him by promising him his dubious drumming skills (for his awful rock band Loded Diper) will make him a shoo-in to win top prize ($1000) in a Rock Band competition. As per usual for Greg, things don’t quite turn out as planned.

 Like any cross-country road trip, the one undertaken by the Heffleys is beset with mishap and misadventure. I’ve already mentioned Manny’s new pet, a cute little porker that will provide the family with fresh bacon every morning (according to Roderick). Greg makes an enemy-for-life out of a burly, hairy family man he calls “Beardo” (Coppola, Postal). Filthy motels, car troubles, arguments, hungry birds and junk food-related incidents….. all present and accounted for in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. There’s also plenty of PG-level rude humor involving puke and private bathroom functions. There’s a running gag about an embarrassing viral video of Greg with a used diaper stuck to his hand. It earns him the moniker “Diaper Hands”. It’s even a little bit educational; I didn’t know deep-fried butter even existed until I saw this movie.

 I’m finding it difficult to come down too hard on Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. It’s harmless really. It’s basically National Lampoon’s Vacation for the middle school set. I’ll cop to cracking a smile a few times but I never laughed out loud. Much has been made of the recasting of the major roles. I don’t see why people are so bothered by this. It’s simple logic. With the Diary movies, the characters don’t age; the actors that play them do. Zachary Gordon, who played Greg in the other movies, is 19 now. It would be like casting Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 5. So it is that we get a whole new cast in this fourth Diary movie. Not having seen the others, I can’t say which cast is better but I can say the cast of Long Haul isn’t bad. I’m not too sure about Wright’s depiction of Roderick. In the books, he comes off as a bully. In this movie, he’s a functional idiot who can’t even tell the difference between a microwave oven and a room safe. Silverstone isn’t all that believable as a nerdy mom even though she throws herself into the role full tilt boogie. Scott fares a little better as the dad who secretly works (via his re-appropriated iPhone) because his boss doesn’t know he’s on vacation (he never put in for it). Drucker does well as Greg; he’s like a 12-year-old Everyman (an “Everykid”?).

 I can’t say Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is an example of good filmmaking. It’s not. At best, it’s competent. It captures a little of the spirit of Jeff Kinney’s books. I won’t waste time commenting on details like plot, character development and aesthetics. The target audience doesn’t care anyway. Ultimately, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul will be of no interest to anyone over the age of 12 which makes the reference to Psycho all the more baffling. It’s highly unlikely any of the kids in attendance have even heard of Psycho so the shower scene will fly right over their heads. I guess the makers included it so the parents forced to sit through Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul have something to laugh at. Sadly, it’s immediately preceded by a gross scene of Beardo doing number two (replete with sound effects) while Greg hears all of it from his hiding spot in the shower. It’s not art but Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is innocuous enough that sitting through it isn’t totally torturous. 

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