Now in its third film, the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series is the charming little franchise that keeps chugging along. The third installment, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” doesn’t deviate from the familiar formula, but it retains the most important element — being a breezy, fun film for the whole family.
As the summer kicks off, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon, “Bubble Guppies”) has two objectives — spending as much time as he can on video game marathons and secondly, finding a way to get out of the friend zone with his school crush, Holly Hills (Peyton List, “Jessie”).
The former will be easy provided Greg can stay a step ahead of his well-meaning father, Frank (Steve Zahn, “A Perfect Getaway”), who wants Greg to get off his butt and do something active over the summer. The father-son dynamic is the film’s major story arc and is conveyed without the typical clubbing the audience over the head with its moral of sons and fathers appreciating each other. Zahn and Gordon have an easy, believable chemistry and their scenes are some of the film’s best.
Greg’s summer looks to dramatically improve after his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), invites him as his guest to his parent’s country club. Capron’s wide-eyed enthusiasm easily makes him my favorite supporting character and he’s committed to making Rowley one of the most likable sidekicks ever. And conveniently enough, the country club is the same one that Holly’s family belongs to as well.
Greg gets a bit too nervy though and lies to his dad about having a summer job. This gives Greg’s older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), prime blackmail material unless Greg sneaks him into the club so he can hit on Holly’s older sister, Heather (Melissa Roxburgh). The payoff to that subplot is one of the film’s standout scenes and Bostick seems to revel in it.
Director David Bowers, who also directed last year’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” lends a playful style that adeptly mimics the exaggerated nature of a pre-teen’s imagination and the spirit of Jeff Kinney’s books. It’s just the right amount of over-the-top zaniness without falling into overly silly. You’ll laugh at Greg and the gang’s antics, but Bowers doesn’t insult the audience.
Some jokes are a bit too predictable — guess what happens when Frank asks Greg to hand him the bait just as they start to fish — but even then, the cast so earnestly carries out the scenes it’s hard not to criticize. It’s just better to relax and enjoy it. The “Diary” series has never tried to be high-concept children’s fare and “Dog Days’” charm largely lies in its simplistic nature. It’s a fun, family movie that doesn’t aspire, or need to be, anything more.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10