"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" is just as low-key and just as appealing as the previous two pictures. Once again arranged around an average (if wimpy) lad named Greg Heffley (played by Zachary Gordon), who lives in the aptly named Plainville, "Dog Days" moves us forward to the summer before Greg enters eighth grade.
He insists he's "an indoor person," which means he'd prefer to play video games all day, rather than participating in the robust activities encouraged by his dad (Steve Zahn, who has much more to do in this installment than in the previous films).
Happily (because it would be a monotonous movie if Greg actually spent his summer playing video games), our hero begins tagging along with best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) when Rowley's family goes to the nearby country club. Why? Because there's a cute girl Greg would like to get to know better.
A variety of plot lines weave together, in ways that don't feel forced or hokey: camping outings with a scouting troop, a visit to an amusement park and the constant needling of Greg's older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) whose rock band has still not taken off.
Director David Bowers keeps all this perking along, and finds funny little things for some of the supporting kids to handle. Life lessons are offered in an unobtrusive but real way, and nothing too crass comes along to kill the mood.
The "Wimpy Kid" movies are based on a successful web cartoon (and series of books) by Jeff Kinney. Clearly, Kinney and the screenwriters have memories of what it's actually like to be a child; the failures and mortifications have an authentic ring to them.
Think of this one as a "Moonrise Kingdom" with softer edges and less quirk (which is not as crazy as it sounds; co-writer Wally Wolodarsky is a veteran of Wes Anderson's film world).
If there's another sequel, expect it next year: These things have been coming out annually, with no wasted time in between. Surely there's an example there for all movie franchises: Get on with it, don't keep us waiting and don't wimp out.
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" (3 stars)
The third installment proves the low-key appeal of this kid series: well-observed, relatable and rarely over the top. In this one, Greg Heffley is on the verge of eighth grade, but must survive a summer first, complete with the perils of camping and courtship.
Rated: PG for subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Olympic, Stanwood, Meridian, Oak Tree, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-in, Cascade Mall.
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