Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, the latest installment of the Wimpy Kid movies based on the preteen book series of the same name, is not so much a retooling as it is a recasting, since the kids who starred in the original 2012 movie have since grown too old to play the respective characters. It’s not a new idea: Chevy Chase’s Vacation movies recast the kids each movie. But the latest Wimpy Kid recasts the entire family–parents included. But don’t despair, as longtime series director David Bowers has returned to helm a kids’ movie that’s also an effective road movie.
The movie opens when the Heffley family goes to a kid-oriented family restaurant (think Chuck E Cheese’s) for a family dinner. It’s an overly staged scene, with kids eating out of the ice cream machine and running around the restaurant screaming. Heffley matriarch Susan (an almost unrecognizable Alicia Silverstone) notices that her entire family is glued to cell phones, including husband Frank (Tom Everett Scott) and 16-year-old son Rodrick. Susan orders her middle son, preteen Greg (Jason Drucker), to rescue his toddler brother, Manny (Wyatt and Dylan Walters) from the restaurant’s playground. Struggling through a manic play area, Greg goes down the slide to land in the pool filled with balls, where he places his hand on a used diaper, which sticks to his hands. Countless people take videos with their cell phones, later making Greg an internet sensation. (It becomes a running gag, but more on the running gags later.)
Despite the movie’s manic start, it eventually becomes clear that The Long Haul is a road movie, with Susan wanting to travel across the country to her grandmother’s birthday party. Greg, on the other hand, would rather go to a comic-book convention, where a YouTube star, a video game player, has invited Greg to star in a video with him. Greg manipulates his family, notably his workaholic father and dim-witted brother Rodrick in order to make it to the convention. Needless to say, troubles ensue. Greg is sadly disappointed by his experience at the convention, and the family barely makes it to Susan’s grandmother’s birthday party in one piece.
The Long Haul is a decently executed comedic road-trip movie that will appeal to kids and parents alike. The movie is essentially slapstick–it’s a kids’ movie, after all–but some of the running gags will appeal to kids, notably the one about Greg as an internet video sensation. Yet others will appeal to older members of the audience. When the family checks into a filthy, cock roach-infested motel, both adults (and kids) will roll their eyes and cringe “I’ve been there,” especially when Frank says to Susan, “It’s only for one night.” It’s at the same motel that the movie’s best recurring gag begins. When Greg and Rodrick discover that the motel’s pool is empty, they look over at the whirlpool, occupied by a hillbilly family headed by its overweight father (Chris Coppola). After the hillbilly kids damage their father’s van, they blame it on Greg, and Greg spends the rest of the movie running into and avoiding the hillbilly dad. Other gags are also amusing, as when the family gets covered in mud when the family van gets stuck.
Don’t take your kids to The Long Haul thinking they’ll learn something; instead, it’s a fun hour and a half you can share together. And at the end, isn’t that what’s important?