“DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL” — 1½ stars — Jason Drucker, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, Charlie Wright; PG (rude humor); in general release
Little kids may find potty humor hilarious, but depending on how parents feel about the sound of a grown man defecating, they may want to skip “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”
Every once in a while, a movie’s title is spot on. “The Long Haul” takes the titular preteen protagonist and his family on a cross-country road trip to attend his grandmother’s 90th birthday party. For a while, the production feels like a watered-down, family friendly “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” If only that were the case.
Before the family hits the road, viewers meet 12-year-old Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker), who, thanks to an unfortunate public mishap that marks the first of many poop-themed gags, has just gone viral as the internet sensation “Diaper Hands.” His preteen mind concludes that the only way to salvage his reputation is to meet his online gamer idol Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover) and get featured in one of his videos.
Fortunately for Greg and the script, Digby is appearing at a gamer convention a short distance from Meemaw’s birthday party, so if Greg can find a way to divert the family road trip, he might be in business.
First, he has to survive the trip, which his mother, Susan (Alicia Silverstone), seems to have intentionally designed to be miserable. She has packed sack lunches full of awful healthy food and forbidden electronic devices, much to the consternation of Greg’s workaholic father, Frank (Tom Everett Scott). Greg also has to deal with his obnoxious older brother, Roderick (Charlie Wright, playing a two-dimensional obnoxious older brother), and little brother, Manny (Dylan and Wyatt Walters, playing a prop).
Life on the road, like life at home, just feels like a sequence of humiliating predicaments, and Greg encounters cockroach-infested motel bathrooms, a rural country fair with an affinity for pig, and a rival road-tripping family crammed into an old VW bus as they also grind their way across the vastness of Middle America. Greg even has to endure mom and dad’s favorite Spice Girls song (which seems ironic, considering both actors are perhaps best known for their 1990s film roles in “Clueless” and “That Thing You Do!”).
Through it all, the potty jokes keep coming, from urine-filled lemonade bottles to flatulent piglets to hairy middle-aged men just trying to enjoy a quiet moment on the can. (An amusing, if unoriginal homage to “Psycho” follows that last one, if you can get there.)
This is the fourth adaptation from Jeff Kinney’s book series, and the first to hit movie screens since 2012’s “Dog Days.” Judging by the number of kids making their way back and forth to the bathroom throughout the “Long Haul” press screening, this is a grind few will consider worth waiting for.
The family road trip is a classic piece of Americana, perfect for a big screen send up. But “The Long Haul” suffers from a poor script, unconvincing acting and an agitating soundtrack that makes the whole production feel decidedly low budget. This is the kind of movie you give 20 minutes on Netflix, not one you shell out $50 to see with the whole family. There’s a unifying message at the end of it all, but parents would be smarter to pack their families into the van and take a daytrip somewhere where at least the potty jokes come naturally.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is rated PG for rude humor; running time: 91 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube.