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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

It is really hard to care about a movie when it seems like everyone involved doesn't seem to particularly care about it either. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to kids' movies, relying on peeing-in-the-pool jokes and exaggerated facial expressions to try and coax a chuckle out of its audience.

The third movie based on the popular books by Jeff Kinney is a series of vaguely related vignettes that chronicle the misadventures of Greg Heffley (Zach Gordon), the eponymous wimpy kid. Whether or not the disjointed nature of the script is because it is based on two of Kinney's books — The Last Straw and Dog Days according to his website — is beside the point; the fact remains that it's a mess, and perhaps one last cash grab at the series before its stars age out of their roles.

Greg's main problems are that his crush Holly (Peyton List) didn't get a chance to leave her entire number in his yearbook before she was whisked away, and that his dad Frank (Steve Zahn) wants him to do something other than play video games all day. His solution is to tag along with his friend Rowley (Robert Capron) to the fancy country club where Holly teaches tennis lessons to kids. As a bonus, Greg tells his dad he's got a job there, too. However, he's kind of a putz, so his problems are really his fault and caused by him lying and generally acting like a jerk to people like Rowley. Rowley is, of course, dorky and chubby and feels terrible when he lies and is generally a good kid; he's supposed to be a comic foil or a sidekick, but it's really hard to rustle up any sympathy for such a poorly written and acted character. The role itself is thankless; the round-faced nerd with the bowl cut who really loves his parents (albeit to an uncomfortable degree) and is a loyal friend is never going to be the real hero of the story.

The most pressing issue is that Greg is not a very compelling character. He's not really ''wimpy'' or unpopular or anything that would show he's as put-upon by the world as the title indicates; that would have at least opened up the opportunity for a discussion about bullying or something of that nature. He's not beleaguered, he's exasperating. In fact, pretty much all of the characters are. This is not drama that will lend itself to some grand epiphany, but the father/son arc is so weak it's difficult to believe that they're having significant problems or that it means anything when they finally see eye to eye.

There is a small but insidious mean streak in the movie, as well. An early scene shows Greg hunting for his little brother in the men's locker room at the local pool, and his discomfort at the scenes around him — Men with hairy backs! Men clipping their gross, yellowed toenails! — illustrates a squeamishness that sets off a few alarm bells. Yes, it's scary and weird to see the bodies of naked strangers, especially when your own body is about to be going all crazy growing hair and zits and weird stuff, but the way it's played for laughs is downright icky. Later, Greg's brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) pretends to be drowning to get the attention of his crush and ends up getting CPR from an older man, a gesture that leaves Rodrick practically gagging. The idea that it's weak and therefore unmanly to have love for one's parents and value honesty (as per Rowley) or engage in selflessness (as per the CPR-giver) isn't really disproved by the end. Greg makes amends with Rowley, and Greg realizes that his dad isn't perfect either, and that it really is better to be honest and loving towards your friends and family, but it's all as hollow as a Hallmark movie that wraps everything up in time for the commercial break.

The acting is about as good as you'd expect. Gordon reacts to almost everything with a sort of wizened/constipated look that may call to mind Woody Allen or some other menschy type, but it doesn't fly. Zahn has an occasionally funny moment that some adults will pick up on, but that's about it. Bostick reprises his role as Greg's older brother Rodrick, who is a sort of mall punk desperate to impress Holly's horrible older sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh). Bostick is sort of funny, although this seems like the role that will probably embarrass him in years to come, especially his performance in one of the very few entertaining scenes in the whole movie. (It involves pyrotechnics, prissy sixteen-year-olds and a bug-eyed version of ''Baby.'') The talented Rachael Harris is saddled with the thankless job of playing the matriarch of this brood; she spends her scant time onscreen with a toddler on her hip, imploring her husband and/or son to communicate and so forth.

It's hard to not be cynical about kids' movies and studios looking to make a quick summer buck, and Dog Days is a great example why. There are plenty of other interesting things for you and your family to enjoy in theaters this summer; really, you would actually be better off staying home and playing video games with your kids than seeing Dog Days. rated this film 1 star.