Wimpy Kid is def­i­nitely a long haul

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - KATIE WALSH Tri­bune News Ser­vice

From 2010 to 2012, a tril­ogy of “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid” films were re­leased in rapid suc­ces­sion, star­ring Zachary Gor­don, Devon Bo­stick, Rachael Har­ris and Steve Zahn. Adapted from the web comic turned kids nov­els by Jeff Kin­ney, the films fea­tured the kinds of em­bar­rass­ments and toi­let hu­mour that tend to make up most mid­dle school lore. Five years later, a fourth film, “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” is hit­ting the­atres, with a com­pletely new cast mak­ing up the Hef­fley fam­ily. Di­rec­tor David Bow­ers, who helmed the “Ro­drick Rules” and “Dog Days” in­stal­ments of the fran­chise, returns to wran­gle this par­tic­u­lar out-of-con­trol-mini­van down the free­way.

This story of a fam­ily va­ca­tion gone wrong could have just been sub­ti­tled “Road Trip,” but it turns out “The Long Haul” is an iron­i­cally apt de­scrip­tor for this film. One hes­i­tates to re­fer to it as a “com­edy,” as the jokes are few and far be­tween. No, “hor­ror” was the word that popped into mind fre­quently dur­ing th­ese grim 90 min­utes.

“Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is a deft ex­plo­ration of the hor­rors of mod­ern life in the techob­sessed, neo-lib­eral, ad­vanced cap­i­tal­ist 21st cen­tury Amer­ica; a world where so­cial me­dia rules our brains and be­hav­iour, and con­stant con­nect­ed­ness means con­stant work. This fam­ily’s road trip il­lus­trates how Amer­ica has be­come a po­lar­ized na­tion ob­sessed with nos­tal­gia, grip­ping tight to the con­struct of a “real” Amer­ica in light of rapid cul­tural change. Some fun.

It’s also a ter­ri­fy­ing cau­tion­ary tale about dis­tracted driv­ing — adults in the au­di­ence may cower ev­ery time one of the Hef­fley par­ents be­hind the wheel takes their eyes off the road or uses their phone

while shep­herd­ing a teen, tween, tod­dler, spouse, piglet and boat trailer be­hind the cursed mini­van. Belly laughs? More like stom­ach lurches. It’s truly more har­row­ing than “Fate of the Fu­ri­ous” at times, and more frus­trat­ing, since Vin Diesel never texts while driv­ing, and doesn’t bring a brood in the back seat.

Fit­tingly, the cen­tral con­flict of the film is about tech­nol­ogy and screen time. Mom Su­san (Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone) con­fis­cates all elec­tronic de­vices so the fam­ily can en­joy real face time on their road trip — but dad Frank (Tom Everett Scott) hasn’t taken the days off work, while tit­u­lar wimpy kid Greg (Ja­son Drucker) and met­al­head brother Ro­drick (Char­lie Wright) are schem­ing to get to a video game con­ven­tion. Greg’s de­ter­mined to clean up his on­line rep­u­ta­tion af­ter he be­comes the star of an em­bar­rass­ing meme, and thinks a video with his hero, star gamer Mac Digby ( Joshua Hoover) will do the trick. Their ju­ve­nile and self­ish med­dling takes the fam­ily trip from bad to apoc­a­lyp­tic.

The film seems to be aware of the ter­rors it in­flicts on its au­di­ence in the name of a good time (or some kind of time ... the in­tended ef­fect is not clear). There are sev­eral di­rect ref­er­ences to Hitch­cock’s most iconic hor­ror films, “Pyscho” and “The Birds,” for some in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son. Though os­ten­si­bly pre­sented as an hour and a half of rau­cous fam­ily ad­ven­ture — a “Va­ca­tion” for the PG crowd — “Wimpy Kid” is in­stead a dirge of un­funny scat­o­log­i­cal ma­te­rial, techno-anx­i­ety and child en­dan­ger­ment mas­querad­ing as fa­mil­ial bond­ing.

Set­tle in for the “Long Haul,” be­cause this is one bumpy, mis­er­able ride.

DANIEL MCFADDEN, TWENTIETH CEN­TURY FOX

Char­lie Wright, left, and Ja­son Drucker in a scene from, “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”

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