With “Diary of a Wimpy Kind: The Long Haul,” I enter this long-running movie franchise a fresh newbie. I have not seen the previous entries, and this will save me the trouble of comparing this one to what came before. This one also has an entirely new cast of actors as the previous cast had other things to do or simply got too old to play the roles they made famous. But if this sequel truly equals its predecessors in terms of quality, I have all the reason in the world to avoid them at all costs.
As you may be able to discern from its title, “The Long Haul” is a road movie as we watch the Heffley family travel in a minivan to visit their grandmother for her 90th birthday. However, young Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker), the hero of this series, has other plans as he and his brother Rodrick (Charlie Wright, who looks a lot like Ezra Miller here) intend to escape their parents’ loving clutches and go to a video game convention where they can redeem their meager social status and become mega-popular in the eyes of their schoolmates.
At this point in my life, I feel like I have seen every road movie ever made, and this made watching “The Long Haul” especially cloying and painfully irritating. This one has shamelessly stolen from all the classics like “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Midnight Run,” “Lost in America” and “Tommy Boy” among others to where this feels like a greatest hits collection performed by a cover band that cannot come close to equaling what the original artists pulled off. The filmmakers could have taken this material and made it all their own, but perhaps the studio executives were more interested in making this movie seem as bland and generic as humanly possible.
Seriously, every single cliché from road movies is on display in “The Long Haul.” You have the family staying at a motel which should be condemned and has a pool the kids are excited about swimming in until they discover it is either empty or grossly polluted. There’s also plenty of flatulence jokes, family members getting mud all over them while trying to move their car, parents singing songs their kids can’t stand, a kid vomiting while on an amusement park ride, and there’s a spoof of the “Psycho” shower scene, a classic scene which has been spoofed to death. The only thing missing is Christie Brinkley driving along in her red Ferrari which, while this is a PG-rated movie, would have been a welcome sight.
Over the years, I have come to resent movies about young kids as they fail to represent them realistically and instead present them as types of characters designed to appeal to a certain demographic. At least Greg Heffley, the main character of this series, resembles someone we can relate to as his anxieties remind us of how horrifying it was to be socially ostracized at school. But everyone else here is designed to fill a certain niche, and the actors, as a result, can only do so much with the shallow material they have been given.
If there is one thing I liked about “The Long Haul,” it was Alicia Silverstone who plays the matriarch of the Heffley family, Susan. It’s been a long time since she stole our hearts in “Clueless” and all those Aerosmith music videos, and she remains as appealing as ever even as the screenplay fails her constantly. Ever since her big breakthrough, she hasn’t been seen as much and has been largely relegated to projects which, more often than not, fly under the radar. But seeing her here reminded me of what a wonderful presence she can be in any movie, and that’s even though this one is largely undeserving of her talents.
Directing “The Long Haul” is David Bowers who was a storyboard artist on “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and directed the vastly underrated animated film “Flushed Away.” Rumor has it Bowers wanted to make this “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” sequel into an animated film, and I truly believe it would have been a far more interesting cinematic experience if he had done that instead. The books themselves have a unique cartoon style which I think would lend itself well to a feature film, but as this series has been a live action one for three movies, I imagine studio executives were not about to change anything up.
When all is said and done, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is an endlessly irritating exercise in futility, and I’m not even sure fans of this franchise will find much to enjoy here. I snickered through most of it, and I don’t recall laughing once. Instead, I found myself wondering why the characters’ cell phones never seemed to run out of energy. I mean, there should have at least been one scene where they plugged them into a power source as I find myself recharging mine every other half hour. Also, that slide the kids travel down at the movie’s start is red and, when they come out at the end, suddenly turns blue. Glaring errors like these became far more interesting to me than anything else in this sequel’s 90-minute running time.
Seriously, save your money and binge watch “Freaks & Geeks” instead as it represents a far more entertaining example of growing up a kid. It was a brilliant show, and like all brilliant shows which aired on network television, it lasted only one season.