views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (U)
Vue, West End
22nd July 2012


It's fair to say the previous Wimpy Kid films haven't been stand-out cinematic masterpieces. The first was met with lukewarm reviews, the second, Roderick Rules, slightly worse. But in this third outing, they seem to have finally cracked it and produced a sweet, if distinctly unchallenging (for kids and adults) tale.

The film cobbles together the plot of Jeff Kinney's books The Last Straw and Dog Days in a bid to create a full narrative and potentially seal off the series before the stars get too old to continue. The main issue here is that the resulting product resembles a Top Gear challenge. Plots are welded askew to other storylines, held together with masking tape, balsa wood and hope. The story bounces from a country club to holiday home to the woods and back again with little rhyme or reason. Ideas are picked up and forgotten almost scene by scene and kids will need to have a decent attention span not to be completely lost.

The jumbled tale involves Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) who attempts to win the heart of his school crush while avoiding bonding with his father over the school's summer holidays. Lying about getting a job at a country club to ensure he doesn't get enrolled into a fascistic military school. Oh, and there's a visit to a funfair, the pointless addition of a pet pooch, a subplot about his brother's band and lots of other muddled things going on. Truthfully, it seems like three or four kids' TV episodes put in a blender in a desperate attempt to hit a decent running time.

But somewhere in all of this is a promise, a sparkle, that makes a lot of it forgivable. The rapid change of locations and focus means that the youngsters won't be bored. It's also very American without being too saccharine or cloying - imagine a very diluted Malcolm in the Middle. Sure, the jokes are, for the most part, tired (one swimming pool scene having been done better by Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean in 1990) but there are a few nice bits for the parents and it's certainly never offensively bad.

The comparison to Malcolm in the Middle goes a long way in one of the saving graces of the movie - Steve Zahn as Greg's borderline insane father Frank. We've always liked Stevey-boy even though he's never really got his due. He manages to show off his kiddie acting chops to full effect, echoing Bryan Cranston's turn as Hal in the US sitcom. He's all gurning, mad raving, delightful delirium and his blatantly over-the-top performance provides the lion's share of the film's laughs. Devon Bostick as Greg's wannabe-rocker brother Rodrick is also solid, his naturally odd features adding an extra level of ridiculousness to the already preposterous character.

As for the rest of the cast, there's a fair bit of precocious child acting, not least Peyton List, who plays Greg's crush Holly. But Gordon himself is amiable enough and Robert Capron as best friend Rowley Jefferson is just the right side of awkward to be endearing rather than "I hope you drown" level annoying. Still, when there are child actors doing both drama and comedy as well as, say, Chloe Moretz or a younger Hayden Panettiere, they're no Oscar winners.

As far as artistic merit goes, we aren't even talking about seminal kids' films like The Goonies, The Sandlot Kids and A Muppet Christmas Carol or their modern Pixar counterparts. Director David Bowers does about as competent a job of filming this as Maya Forbes, Gabe Sachs or Wallace Wolodarksy does on the script. Which is to say they've got something solid on the screen.

This doesn't transcend ages and captivate parents as well as their children. It's not going to become a family tradition to sit around on Christmas Eve and watch a dog slobber over a pot roast. But it might keep some children quiet for 90 minutes and provide their folks with a few laughs.

Wimpy Kid: Dogs Days was released in the UK on 3rd August 2012.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts