Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Remember Diary of a Wimpy Kid? That’s okay, neither do I – though I vaguely recall a book cover featuring a frowny-faced stick figure. That book, penned and sketched by Jeff Kinney, about the trials and tribulations of Greg Heffley’s lonely preteen boyhood, became a series, and then a movie franchise.

It’s been a whopping five years since the last film of the series, Dog Days, presumably because each of the Wimpy Kid films made less money than its predecessor. So it’s worth asking why Fox resuscitated a dud that’s so long out of date the characters in the new film are played by different actors. Regardless, here we are with The Long Haul – which perfectly describes the viewing experience.

According to Long Haul, fecal matter and farts are funny, the Spice Girls are uncool and bearded, stocky men are cruel child assaulters. This is a movie designed for six-year-olds, but still manages to insult even their intelligence. The titular wimpy kid Greg (Jason Drucker) is being forced to spend his summer days on a technology-free road trip organized by his well-meaning mother Susan (Alicia Silverstone) so that the Heffley family can spend some quality time together driving to great-grandmother Meemaw’s 90th birthday celebration. Susan’s zero-tolerance ban on all devices wears down not only Greg, but also his older brother Rodrick (Charlie Wright) and their workaholic father Frank (Tom Everett Scott), who sneaks away to send work emails.

When a video of Greg goes viral after he inadvertently picks up a used diaper in an indoor playground, he plans to regain his popularity by recording himself playing video games beside a YouTube celebrity. “Diaper Hands” reroutes the car’s GPS to a nearby gaming convention, where his idol Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover) is set to make an appearance.

The plan goes predictably south on more than one occasion before the youngster learns his lesson about not letting Mom down. Greg is responsible for many of the ill-timed mishaps that come to define the Heffleys’ road trip. Missing pacifiers, a shrieking toddler, motel squalor, Cheeto-loving seagull attacks, farting piglets, a country bumpkin fair that makes fun of rural folk, all make up some of the more colourful moments. Other inanity involves slo-mo projectile vomit and the entire runtime of a man taking an extremely audible dump offscreen. Fabulous.

The film’s wall-to-wall gags are insufferable. By the time the family gets to their destination, they’re muddied and covered in seagull feathers and dung, yet somehow the audience is more tired than they are. What does this kind of movie end up teaching kids, anyway? That moms are shrewd disciplinarians who just don’t understand kids these days?

Susan punishes Greg for his ruining everything, but I bet every smart kid in the audience will try that GPS trick at least once. It’s ironic that Greg poo-poos his mom’s suggestion of reading books, because that’s exactly the alternative activity kids should do instead of watching The Long Haul.

Originally published in The National Post (May 18, 2017).