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Maybe it has to do with the lowered expectations surrounding something with Dog Days in its title being released during a traditionally less-stellar time in the moviegoing season, but the third installment in the Wimpy Kid franchise turns out to be not so wimpy after all.
Although it paints everything with the same broad sitcom strokes as its predecessor, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, culled from the third and fourth books in Jeff Kinney’s wildly successful “novel in cartoons” series, proves nimbler and truer to its origins than last year’s Rodrick Rules.
Despite the fact that this “school’s out” edition is hitting theaters at a time when many kids in the country are getting ready to go back, the modestly budgeted Fox 2000 presentation still should come within spitball distance of the $53 million taken domestically by its predecessor.
It’s summer break in the Heffley household, and while the teenage Greg (Zachary Gordon) is content to while away the sunny hours inside playing video games, his hapless dad, Frank (Steve Zahn) has other, father-son-bonding ideas.
Greg initially is able to dodge working as an intern at Frank’s office by pretending he already landed a job at the ritzy country club where his buddy Rowley (Robert Capron) belongs — and where his crush Holly Hills (Peyton List) hangs out — but when his dad catches on to the ruse, Greg gets dragged off on an ill-fated camping trip.
David Bowers, who also helmed Rodrick Rules, and incoming screenwriters Maya Forbes (The Larry Sanders Show) and Wallace Wolodarsky (Monsters vs. Aliens) have brought the title character closer to those wimpier roots after Greg came across as a little too mean-spirited the last time out.
As again portrayed by Gordon, this time around there’s more vulnerability to temper that smartass streak, while the story as a whole feels less episodic.
You still won’t find the characters fleshed out any more substantially than Kinney’s stick figures, but Zahn’s unique way with a line reading or reaction keeps things benignly amusing.
Also back are Rachael Harris as Greg’s just-coping mom and Devon Bostick as lazy big-brother Rodrick.
Shooting again took place in Vancouver, shot back-to-back with the second film last summer, to ensure the wimpy kid didn’t look more like a wimpy man.
Opens: Friday, Aug. 3 (Fox)
Production companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, Color Force
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn
Director: David Bowers
Screenwriters: Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky
Executive producers: Jeff Kinney, Jeremiah Samuels
Producers: Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson
Director of photography: Anthony B. Richmond
Production designer: Brent Thomas
Music: Edward Shearmur
Costume designer: Monique Prudhomme
Editor: Troy Takaki
Rated PG, 94 minutes.
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