HONESTY is the best policy.
So says Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, the third chapter of exaggerated adolescent angst in as many years based on Jeff Kinney’s best-selling series.
Embracing the film’s spirit of openness, the disappointing truth is that director David Bowers and the script deserve fail grades for their shambolic efforts.
Every laugh feels forced, the eponymous hero grates on our nerves and the most interesting and colourful supporting characters are relegated to the background.
Wise-cracking tyke Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is looking forward to spending the summer in front of a TV playing video games.
However, his mother Susan (Rachael Harris) has other ideas and encourages her husband Frank (Steve Zahn) to engage with Greg, enrolling the lad in the Wilderness Explorers so they can spend quality time together in the great outdoors.
“Me and my dad have nothing in common. As long as I stay one step ahead of him, I think I have a shot at a great summer,” Greg assures us.
So the youngster lies about landing a job at the local country club, where he hopes to win the affections of pretty classmate Holly (Peyton List), who gives tennis lessons to local kids.
In order to impress Holly, Greg suggests a boys versus girls doubles match with loveable best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) and arch-nemesis Patty (Laine MacNeil).
Rowley quietly reminds his pal that they don’t know how to play.
“We’ve played Ultimate tennis on the Wii. It’s basically the same thing,” casually replies Greg, who is heading for an almighty fall.
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is the weakest chapter so far.
Bowers’s soulless sequel contrives several flimsy set pieces – Greg losing his swimming trunks as he tumbles from a 10m diving board, a disastrous sweet sixteen party – that fail to raise a smile.
The father-son bonding is saturated with sickly sentiment, hammering home the life lesson: “a man who never made a mistake, never made anything.”
As portrayed on the big screen, Greg is deeply selfish, so we struggle to muster any sympathy for the brattish protagonist as his tower of little white lies collapses around him.
“I think most people would agree, I’m a pretty likeable kid,” Greg narrates cheerfully.
He’s deluded. Most people wouldn’t.
The chaste romance between Greg and Holly rings hollow – she can clearly do much better.
Kinney has written two further books in the series since Dog Days and a new instalment, The Third Wheel, is published in the UK on November 14, so we face the grim possibility of Greg tormenting us on the big screen for years to come.
That’s the true meaning of growing pains.