Director: David Bowers
Rating: PG (for some rude humor.)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2017
Color Force and 20th Century Fox.
Written by: Jeff Kinney and David Bowers; adapted from the book of the same name by Jeff Kinney.
Having two daughters who have spent time with Jeff Kinney‘s books, I recognize and appreciate the way the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series speaks to older elementary and younger middle school-aged children. The books are inventive, clever, and popular, with Kinney selling more than 150 million copies of his 12-book series since it first launched in 2007.
Kinney seems like a really nice guy, which makes bashing Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul kind of tough. He and his wife took the opportunity to open a bookstore and cafe in their hometown of Plainville, Massachusetts. He designs online games. And instead of just drinking in the royalties generated from 150 million books being sold, he created a popular kids’ website, Poptropica, and was named, in 2009, one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People.
But man oh man, these movies just get progressively worse and worse and The Long Haul is the worst of the bunch. Film #4 in the Wimpy Kid cinematic universe, and the first since 2012, this is not a reboot, but delivers an entirely new cast reprising all of the same roles.
And it is really, really bad. And I take no joy in telling you that, as this is Kinney’s first screenplay, co-writing the film with director David Bowers. After working hard to get this back on the big screen, Kinney may have inadvertently killed his franchise dead by authoring one of the year’s worst films.
At one point, The Long Haul was potentially going to be animated, but instead we have Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott replacing Steve Zahn and Rachael Evans as Mom and Dad, Jason Drucker starring as middle schooler and main subject, Greg, the obnoxious Charlie Wright as bullying older brother Rodrick, and twins Dylan and Wyatt Walters sharing the role of baby brother Manny.
This time around, the Heffley family is off on a road trip to visit their MeeMaw somewhere in Indiana for her 90th birthday. A few days before the family leaves from Los Angeles to Don’t Remember Town, Greg goes viral when someone films his hand getting stuck in a vacated diaper, while he searches for his baby brother in the trappings of a kid-themed restaurant’s ball pit. A meme is created, Greg is now known as “Diaper Hands”, and he becomes Internet famous.
Scouting the road trip laid out by their mother, Susan, Greg and Rodrick discover that the annual Players Expo convention is taking place in Somewheresville, Indiana, an hour or so away from MeeMaw’s party. Greg thinks that if he can find a way to make a video with legendary YouTube gaming enthusiast Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover), he will reverse his online fortunes. So naturally he decides to reprogram the family GPS to the Expo and, despite Mom insisting that they use a paper map as backup in case something goes awry, no one recognizes that their trip has been tampered with.
I mean, what else do you want me to say? This is a road trip movie. Rodrick is unpleasant, Dad is aloof, Greg tries to be the voice of reason, and Mom is oblivious to the ways of the world. Under the auspices of family bonding, she decides that this is a “No Device” vacation, taking away everyone’s cell phones and refusing to allow anyone to be connected to social media, e-mail, etc.
While that is all well and good, The Long Haul, perhaps accidentally, paints a picture of a woman who intimidates her family so severely that her husband is scared to tell her that he forgot to take vacation and is trying to work on the road, while the older boys’ steal their phones and use them without her knowledge with Dad’s permission.
Along the way, they stop at a county fair where a baby piglet, deep-fried sticks of butter, vomit, betrayal, and God only knows what else bubble to the surface. They also make enemies with the bizarre Beardo family, including the Beardo dad (Chris Coppola), whose efforts in harming Greg should, quite frankly, have him arrested and restricted from visitation with his own wife and children.
Enduring this Long Haul means we get the pleasure of sitting through fat-shaming jokes, vulgar sight gags, and elementary school-level hijinks. And lying. Lots and lots of lying, and selfish behavior, that Kinney and Bowers do not exactly make right by the end. And the parents are so dense and, ahem, clueless, that they become annoying moments after the movie begins.
A couple of inventive sequences, including a well-choreographed scene involving a sun roof, seagulls, and a bag of Cheetos, actually makes the movie come alive for a brief moment.
Even then though, the scene showcases more terrible decisions by the parents, including imperiling their family as they recklessly drive at highway speeds, Dad careening in and out of traffic, while trying to pick up a dropped cell phone. Come. On. Man. Slow down the vehicle and pull over to the shoulder.
This isn’t hard.
Whatever charm existed in the first three films in the Wimpy Kid saga, is dead and buried here. Jeff Kinney is probably a super nice guy. He has sold 150 million books and clearly gives back to his community. I imagine he and his wife are really great parents and his kids love him dearly.
Sadly, maybe this should just move to the small screen. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, with this script and overall presentation, is a bad television movie playing in theaters, showing us that writing screenplays, even for best-selling Time Magazine-endorsed authors, is clearly a lot harder than people realize.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Fans of the initial trilogy, if they have not aged out, might be super excited to see DOAWK is back on the big screen.
- Jason Drucker shows some talent as Greg, and a couple inventive sequences keep things moving along briskly.
- Fans of the book series might be pleased to see that Kinney and co-writer/director David Bowers have plucked other characters and subplots from other books into the series to add more elements to this movie that readers like so well.
- This is a bad Made-for-Nickelodeon or Made-for-Disney-Channel television movie, much less a film that has the ability to hold its own on a big screen.
- Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott are just looking for a boost and a restart to their movie careers, but why this? Silverstone never feels comfortable in the role and the screenplay is bottom of the barrel kids’ movie dreck. Sigh. Sad exhale.
- Harmless to some, full of potty and vomit humor for others. Plus, a deranged madman of a father seems to want to actually physically harm a 12-year-old kid for a number of misunderstandings. FUN! Seriously, the film means well I guess, but the optics on some of this stuff is just so poor. Not a good look boys and girls. Not at all.