It’s the last day of school which marks a three-month summer vacation for Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) and he’s planning on making the most of that time by spending the holidays shackled to his games system. Greg’s father Frank (Steve Zahn) has other plans for his leisure-minded son, and informs him that a junior internship has been organised at his workplace.
In order to get out of spending quality time with his father, Greg fibs about finding employment at the local country club he regularly frequents with best friend Rowley – a place which also happens to be where his dream girl Holly Hills is teaching tennis school for the summer. Undeterred, Frank decides that signing up both himself and Greg up for Boy Scouts (and buying a dog for the family) will help form a bond between the pair and teach Greg some responsibility.
Coming to cinema screens a little over a year since the second instalment, it’s far from a case of diminishing returns with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. A key to the success of these films rests in the fact that while very much geared towards children, they never feel neither childish nor condescending. That saccharine edge which normally leads to eye-rolling and clock-watching for the adult contingent is once again absent, and ‘Dog Days’ (a tad misleading title perhaps, given the limited time dedicated to the Heffley’s mutt) even offers a mildly satirical glimpse at modern life for younger US teens, taking fun and gentle potshots at the Xbox/My Super Sweet 16 generation.
British filmmaker (and director of the previous instalment) David Bowers’ background in animation is evident in the well-constructed broader, slap-stick moments (Frank’s ill-advised fishing trip and civil war re-enactments with his son lead to disastrously comical results) but he also has a good handle on the old vs. new value systems of parents and their offspring, a theme which underpins the film.
Helping to strike that right balance in the material also falls to the cast, and as ever, their efforts are several notches above the usual performances found in similar live-action kiddie fare. The great Steve Zahn (in more of an extended role this time around) leads the pack, bringing warmth to the quieter, emotional beats alongside the running around and general tomfoolery. Once again, Devon Bostick (as Greg’s older brother and lead singer of useless pseudo-goth metal band, Löded Diper) comes close to stealing the film. His performance (which is refreshingly free from that clichéd bullying older sibling act) highlights an unforced and natural comedic talent, and the 20-year-old actor may have a long career ahead of him.
With a further three novels yet to receive the cinematic treatment, let’s hope the younger performers can keep puberty at bay for the moment as judging by the quality on offer here, there’s the potential for many more enjoyable entries in the diary yet.