Having seen two of the four “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies and disliked them both to a great degree, I have diagnosed their problem: they are live-action movies about human beings in the real world when they should be cartoons about talking animals who have all suffered brain injuries.
The latest one, called “The Long Haul” and adapted from Jeff Kinney’s book by Kinney and director David Bowers (whose background is in animation), finds 12-year-old Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) on a road trip with his dorky parents (Tom Everett Scott and Alicia Silverstone), moronic older brother Rodrick (Charlie Wright), and extraneous toddler brother. The Heffleys are headed to Meemaw’s 90th birthday celebration a few states over, but Greg has an alternative plan to sneak off to a gaming expo nearby and meet a doughy loudmouth who’s YouTube-famous for playing video games (which is a thing).
The story, such as it is, consists of one improbably contrived mini-crisis after another, usually predicated on something false, as if conceived by 11-year-olds with no adults on hand to explain why that wouldn’t work. For example, Greg discovers at a motel one morning that he crept into the wrong room last night and slept with the wrong family. (“No, honey, see, motel room doors lock automatically when they close. You couldn’t accidentally walk into the wrong one.”) While stopping at a country fair, Greg and the toddler win a baby pig as a raffle prize, even though they don’t want it. (“Now, you don’t really think the fair could force children to take a pet without their parents’ permission, do you?”)
The gags also tend to rely on a defiance of the laws of physics, as when a boat being pulled by a car launches off its trailer and lands in a distant swimming pool. (By the way, the Heffleys’ plans don’t actually include boating. They brought the boat along solely for extra storage, because they couldn’t fit all their stuff in the minivan. The fact that Dad doesn’t even comment on, much less complain bitterly about, the disastrous effect that pulling a boat FOR NO $&@*#@% REASON will have on his gas mileage is evidence enough of the movie’s failure.)
Weirdest of all is how so many farcical scenarios are set up and then resolved (or dropped) without a payoff or a punchline. Greg spills Cheetos into a jacuzzi and comes out with orange skin; his dad says, “Is your skin orange?”; that’s the end of the bit. There’s an ongoing rivalry with another road-tripping family with whom the Heffleys keep crossing paths, but the rivalry isn’t based on anything; the writers just thought the Heffleys should have an opponent. Basically, every character is a dummy, and the film relies on the audience being too young to realize it. It’s not wimpy, just lazy.
D+ (1 hr., 31 min.; )