Slight uptick among the up­chuck

San Francisco Chronicle - - MOVIE REVIEWS - By Peter Hart­laub Peter Hart­laub is The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle’s pop cul­ture critic. Email: phart­laub@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @PeterHart­laub

The “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid” se­ries has been, at its core, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” with­out the ro­dents.

The for­mula is maybe 70 per­cent at­ten­tion to the plot, and 30 per­cent setup and ex­e­cu­tion of barf, poop and flat­u­lence jokes. A “Wimpy Kid” movie has about as much chance of en­dur­ing cin­e­matic great­ness as a Chuck E. Cheese an­i­ma­tronic band has of win­ning a Tony award.

In that realm of ad­justed ex­pec­ta­tions, “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is a notably solid ef­fort. As other fam­ily-friendly movie fran­chises (in­clud­ing “Chipmunks” and “Ice Age”) seem to get a dou­ble-digit per­cent­age worse each time, this se­quel is at least tied for the best in the se­ries.

“The Long Haul” is the fourth film based on the pop­u­lar graphic novel se­ries by Jeff Kin­ney, and the first with a re­booted cast. In this one, new Greg Hef­fley (Ja­son Drucker) is forced on a road trip with his af­fa­ble but strict par­ents, who in­sist on no phones or other dig­i­tal screens.

Play­ing the mother is Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone, which is a hell of a sucker punch for those of us who swear she played a teenager in “Clue­less” only five or six years ago. (It was ac­tu­ally 22. Just kill me.) She’s an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion, per­form­ing the role with an over-the-top flair, but also from a lov­ing, sin­cere and vaguely re­lat­able place. At her best, she’s rem­i­nis­cent of Wendi McLen­don-Covey’s mem­o­rable work in tele­vi­sion’s “The Gold­bergs.”

As much as this en­try takes its “Va­ca­tion”-with­more-vomit path, the dis­cus­sion of kids-and-par­ents and real-life con­nec­tions keeps “The Long Haul” grounded in some­thing more than pure es­capism. For par­ents and kids who are con­stantly fight­ing about screen time, the ride home from “The Long Haul” might ac­tu­ally be a good place to start peace talks.

Just don’t eat a lot of car­ni­val food be­fore­hand. “The Long Haul” doesn’t just in­clude bod­ily func­tions, it shows the puke fly­ing through the air and hit­ting a man on the face in slow mo­tion. This will delight small chil­dren in the au­di­ence, but has a numb­ing ef­fect on adults in the au­di­ence with more real-world barf and fe­ces cleanup ex­pe­ri­ence.

A side plot in­volv­ing a ri­val road-trip­ping fam­ily prob­a­bly worked well in the more fan­tas­ti­cal graphic novel medium, but the crimes and mis­de­meanors be­ing com­mit­ted by th­ese fam­i­lies bor­der on dis­turb­ing with flesh-and-blood ac­tors in­volved.

In the end, though, it’s all mostly harm­less fun. Kin­ney and se­ries di­rec­tor David Bow­ers are also screen­writ­ers, and their gag-a-minute ap­proach yields the oc­ca­sional in­spired re­sult. Adam San­dler would be en­vi­ous of the scene where older brother Ro­drick (Char­lie Wright) tries to put a microwave pizza in a mo­tel safe.

So to re­cap: Vomit. Screen time. Barf. Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone. Puke. Road trip high jinks. Spew. Microwave pizza.

Gen­er­ally when a critic has to use a th­e­saurus to look up an­other word for “throw­ing up,” it doesn’t bode well for the film. “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” rises above its low­brow roots.

Daniel Mc­Fad­den / 20th Cen­tury Fox

Ro­drick Hef­fley (Char­lie Wright, left) and brother Greg (Ja­son Drucker) in “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”

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