Well, Greg Heffley had to start hitting that awkward stage sometime. No doubt acutely aware of this, the screen handlers of Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” cover a couple of volumes’ worth of material in “Dog Days,” the third movie (and fourth book) in the series. But they can’t keep ahead of their cast’s puberty curve, as the mischief that felt cutely wise-alecky up to this point often just doesn’t work here.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Zachary Gordon, now a teenager, is back for another episodic outing as Greg, joined once again by second-installment director David Bowers. This time, their loose story spine is Greg’s scheme to slack his way through summer vacation. Greg’s true-to-life dream is to play video games 9 to 5, a plan that his dad (Steve Zahn) puts the kibosh on after a day. So it’s on to plan B: pretending that he’s landed a job at the country club where his dorky BFF, Rowley (Robert Capron), is a member.
Not that there isn’t a certain go-getter aspect to it all, as Greg’s big aim is to get closer to yearlong crush Holly Hills (Peyton List), another club regular. If only Greg’s jerk of an older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), didn’t immediately spot this as his ticket to sidle up to Holly’s sister, a lifeguard at the club, and snarf down free food.
Compared to the first two movie installments, this one is uncharacteristically scattershot in the life-lessons department. First, it’s about Greg and his dad’s need to find common ground, so they join a scout troop and go camping. But then, never mind that, because now it’s on to the real emotional core, the stuff about being truthful. Oh, wait, check that: Lying is forgivable, the important thing is that you learn from your mistakes.
Among the things that “Dog Days” does make clear is that Bostick is the series’ unsung star. He’s well past his castmates’ encroaching-adolescence challenges — at 20, he’s gangly in a fully formed way — and even after three movies, his aggressive, butt-of-his-own-joke obnoxiousness hasn’t gotten old. His feigned pool mishap is a highlight.
Contrast this with Greg’s own pool mishap, which ultimately involves covering up in a pair of girl’s hot pants, and seems to feel even more uncomfortable than intended. The sequence is one of a few tonally odd moments, including Rowley’s family’s creepy-close snack sharing. That one falls just on the right side of the divide between funny ha-ha and funny strange. You won’t necessarily feel the same about their invite to have Greg join them in a game called “I Love You Because.” Again, too uncomfortable for family entertainment?
What happened to that swell anecdotal relatability? Consider it another sign that it’s probably time for Gordon to bid “Wimpy Kid” adieu.