A recast Greg Heffley and family aren’t the only thing that’s different about “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” the latest adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s indefatigable kid-lit phenomenon. Wrapping the movies’ five-year hiatus, Jason Drucker takes over as Kinney’s wryly beleaguered tween, seen here in the fresh setting — or fresh hell? — of a family road trip. He’s joined by Alicia Silverstone (yep, she’s 40) and Tom Everett Scott as his parents; newcomer Charlie Wright as his punky brother, Rodrick; and Owen Asztalos in a brief appearance as fan fave Rowley, Greg’s dorky pal.
With these new faces and places comes a slightly new tone, as returning director David Bowers and first-time co-scripter Kinney pull the series out of middle school, and swap its established narrative meandering for something a bit less freewheeling. It’s a change that makes for its own sort of long haul initially, with the more structured approach dialing back episodic diversions that could keep us from focusing on, say, an overhauled cast. (Maybe “Wimpy Kid” target viewers are too young to notice — but they might, if a pre-release #NotMyRodrick meme goofing on Wright was any indication.)
The tweaks do finally fade into the background, partly because the old familiar zaniness keeps creeping in — errant-diaper humiliations! Pet piglet run amok! — and partly because this version of the Heffley family dynamic proves sweetly likable, too. Drucker (Nickelodeon’s “Every Witch Way”) plays it closest to the set template, adding perhaps a tinge of anxiety to Greg’s jonesing for his mom-fiscated smartphone and his elaborate scheming to detour the group toward a big-deal video game convention.
Meanwhile, for all her “Clueless” comedy cred, Silverstone just might be at her best conveying a mother’s special knack for witheringly guilting her boys. She hardly needs the maturity-projecting browline glasses she wears to offset that still girlishly quirky smile.
Kinney and Bowers succeed in their effort to deliver their material’s earnest themes with new clarity and resonance. “The only connecting we’re going to do is with each other,” Silverstone’s grown-up pointedly tells gamer Greg and screen-ager Rodrick, voicing her family-bonding yearning in a way that’s both endearingly uncool and thoroughly relatable.
The Heffleys get there eventually, and with narrative room left over for dive-bombing seagulls and another Hitchcock spoof that’s wackier still. You know how we said this Greg is a fretter? “High Anxiety” might be more like it.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL
Directed by David Bowers. Written by Jeff Kinney and Bowers, based on Kinney’s book. Starring Jason Drucker, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, Charlie Wright. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 91 minutes. PG (some rude humor).Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.