By Alex Welch May 20, 2017
More often than not, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films have struggled to replicate the same authenticity and emotion of author Jeff Kinney’s books. While the films themselves bare the same titles, characters, and even send-ups to the basic cartoon-style of the books, they feel more like substanceless clones of those stories, with all of the same ingredients, and yet none of the flavor. They lack the tact and patience of the books, which aren’t just about the slapstick misadventures of a middle school kid, but an outsider trying to find a way to fit in somewhere in the world around him.
In 2012, it looked like the Wimpy Kid films had finally reached their end too with the release of Dog Days, an apparent send-off to the story of Greg (then played by Zachary Gordon) and his unconventional family. With each film in the franchise making less money than its predecessor, it seemed fair to say that the Wimpy Kid franchise was, indeed, done for good. Turns out that wasn’t the case at all, and this week the Heffley family returns to cinemas with a new look and lineup, though, none of that seems to have brought about any actual change to the franchise itself.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul marks the fourth film in the franchise, with returning director David Bowers behind the helm. But instead of the same ensemble as the previous three Wimpy Kid outings, The Long Haul features an entirely new cast of actors playing the Heffley family. Jason Drucker has replaced Gordon as Greg, while Charlie Wright takes over in the role of his wannabe rockstar brother, Rodrick. Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn have also said goodbye to the roles of the Heffley parents, with the duo this time around being played by Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott.
Essentially picking up sometime after the events of Dog Days, the new film follows the Heffley family when they embark on a cross-country roadtrip to visit and help celebrate the 90th birthday of Greg and Rodrick’s grandmother. Of course, neither of the two boys are happy about being stuck in the car with their family for multiple days, and while they agree to go on the trip with their parents, both have plans of sneaking away to a video game convention happening the same day as the birthday celebration. Rodrick wants to go to compete in a rock band competition that could give him enough prize money to fix his band’s van, while Greg hopes to meet up with his idol; a YouTube gamer who dies the top of his hair different kinds of neon colors.
Of course, Rodrick and Greg’s already ill-conceived plans are thrown into disarray when their mom announces that the road trip will be completely “technology-free,” confiscating everyone’s phones and tablets within the first few minutes of the trip. The film acts like it wants to say something about the current generation’s increasing attachment to technology, and their need to be constantly entertained, but like everything else, it completely fumbles on the execution of that. It doesn’t help either that the parents themselves often act just as, if not more childish and ill-sighted as their kids, and the film doesn’t even try to give either side a compelling argument for their case.
No, The Long Haul isn’t about anything worthwhile, really. Instead, this is one of those films where basically every character in it acts in unexplainably selfish and ridiculously hurtful ways before they eventually reconcile again because “Hey, everyone makes mistakes, right?” That may be enough of a resolution or message for some viewers, including its younger target demographic, but it feels less like an actual adaptation of the Wimpy Kid books and more like a studio-financed impostor.
Some of the gags have enough detail to feel like they were pulled from real life, and the film’s subplot about learning to see our parents as fully-realized humans is by far it’s most effective and poignant. Nonetheless, the film’s breakneck pace strip even the handful of its quieter moments of any real weight, and as such, makes the film feel like an overlong and mind-numbingly dull amusement park ride. It may be enough of a distraction for the kids taken to the theaters by their exhausted parents, but there’s no denying that The Long Haul fails at being the adaptation that book readers should have expected it to be.
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