Two years ago 20th Century Fox took a gamble on a children’s novel about the growing pains of a middle school kid.
The novel was Jeff Kinney’s acclaimed ‘Diary of A Wimpy Kid’ – the first in a series of seven books about the trials and tribulations of Greg Heffley.
Greg and his family are a typical suburban white collar underdog family – not unlike the Simpsons.
His father Frank is neither an under nor an overachiever. His mother Susan is well meaning, his elder brother, Rodrick is the buffoonish lead singer of a dreadful rock band called Loded Diper and he has an infant younger brother Manny.
Greg’s best friend is Rowley Jefferson, a well meaning boy who tries to steer Greg on the right path but often fails.
The box office for ‘Diary of A Wimpy Kid’ in 2010 surpassed the studio’s expectations, earning $75 million on a modest $15 million budget despite lukewarm reviews.
A second installment, ‘Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules’ did almost as well last year, earning $72 million on a budget of $21 million.
This wasn’t bad for a movie whose most accomplished cast member is Steve Zahn – hardly a household name but a stalwart of indie comedies such as ‘Happy Texas’, ‘Employee of the Month’ and ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ and a cast member of HBO’s well received New Orleans drama ‘Treme’.
And so the Heffleys are back once more, with Greg (Zacharay Gordon) facing the prospect of a school summer holiday filled with tension between him and his dad (Steve Zahn) and without the girl of his dreams, Holly Hills (Peyton List).
Greg’s hopes of locking himself away in the house all summer playing video games are thwarted when his disapproving dad, Frank disconnects the TV.
However events take a turn for the better when Rowley (Robert Capron) takes him as his guest to an exclusive country club where Holly is teaching younger children how to play tennis.
This presents Greg with an opportunity to get closer to Holly and to live the high life while at the same time pretending to his mum and dad that he has landed a summer job there.
But with Rodrick (Devin Bostick) also having his heart set on Holly’s spoilt older sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh) and aware that Greg is lying about having a job, events soon get out of hand at the club.
‘Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days’ is an amiable enough family film with modest ambitions that is never going to set the world alight.
Competently directed by David Bowers, it never really rises above its made for television feel. In fact, it feels like an extended episode of ‘Malcolm In The Middle’ or ‘The Wonder Years’.
The mostly teenage cast are up to the task set for them by Bowers – although if there is one standout performance it is probably Robert Capron as the sweet natured, face pulling and awkward Rowley.
There are some laugh out loud moments – which is more than you can say for a lot of screen comedies these days – including the boys’ adventures on a fearsome boardwalk fairground ride, a stomach turning incident involving the Heffleys’ new dog and roast beef and a sequence where Greg tries to impress Holly by diving from the highest board.
‘Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days’ is ideal entertainment for your kids on a wet summer’s afternoon and, God knows, we’ve had plenty of those.
It’s not Olympic gold medal material but at least it manages to stay the course, even if it is well down the field.
‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days’ opened in the Movie House and other UK and Irish cinemas on August 3, 2012.