Director: David Bowers
Cast: Jason Ian Drucker, Charlie Wright, Owen Asztalos, Tom Everett Scott, Alicia Silverstone
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 25 May 2017
Synopsis: In "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul," a Heffley family road trip to attend Meemaw's 90th birthday party goes hilariously off course thanks to Greg's newest scheme to get to a video gaming convention. Based on one of the best-selling book series of all time, this family cross-country adventure turns into an experience the Heffleys will never forget.
It’s been five years since the last ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ movie, so you’ll forgive returning director David Bowers (who did the last two instalments) for leaving his previous cast – whose child actors are now college-age – behind. In assembling the fourth chapter of the series, Bowers has also brought together an entirely new group of actors: Jason Drucker in the title character of Greg Heffley, Charlie Wright as his older brother Rodrick, Wyatt and Dylan Walters as his toddler sibling Manny, and last but not least Tom Everett Scott and Alicia Silverstone as their parents Frank and Susan respectively.
Drawn from the ninth book in author Jeff Kinney’s series, ‘The Long Haul’ follows the Heffleys on their 48-hour road trip to Indiana for Greg’s great-grandmother Meemaw’s 90th birthday celebration. Though every other family member would have preferred to just fly there, Susan insists that the drive will be a great opportunity for ‘family time’; not just that, she rules that it will be an ‘unplugged’ trip, requiring everyone to surrender their cellphones or other electronic devices from the start. As you may expect, that restriction becomes a consistent and persistent source of tension along the trip, especially since Frank had not told his bosses he’d be taking the next few days off work.
Parents will no doubt identify with Susan’s lament of how technology has replaced old-fashioned face-to-face interaction among family, and even empathise with how the rest of the family do not seem to understand her best intentions for them until the very end. On the other hand, teenagers are more likely to find resonance with Greg’s plight, who endures an embarrassing incident at the family-style Corny’s restaurant only to find it acquire a life of its own on the Internet as a ‘Diaper Hand’ meme. No thanks to his humiliating claim to fame, Greg hatches a plan to take a detour to a video game conference, in the hopes of appearing in popular ubernerd-gamer personality Mac Digby’s next Youtube video and clean up his online reputation.
Yet as fittingly relevant as these concerns about technology and screen time are, this film cannot quite escape the generic genre trappings of a family vacation gone awry. Familiar bits here include disgusting motel rooms, overheating engines, broken sunroofs, tawdry roadside attractions and projectile vomiting, further reinforced by hackneyed jokes from the road-movie playbook. A recurring gag has Greg crossing paths time and time again with a hairy guest he meets and offends at a low-rent motel earlier on in the film, whom he nicknames ‘Beardo’ (Chris Coppola). To Bowers’ credit, he and fellow screenwriter Kinney milk the slapstick gags for as much good-natured humour as they are worth, lining these up one after another to keep the engine chugging along just amiably enough not to lose their viewers’ attention.
To be fair, none of its predecessors were known for their inventiveness; at best, they were affable laughers buoyed by a genuine sense of heart for the growing-up struggles of a typical middle-school kid. Because ‘The Long Haul’ doesn’t situate itself in and around Greg’s schooling days (it’s the summer break, remember?), some of that heart is lost, and with it the pathos that made them heart-warming. Whereas Greg’s relationship with his school friends were clearly defined in the earlier movies, that between his parents as well as with his older brother lacks the same definition here, often going no deeper than the shenanigans he finds himself unfortunately mired in. So when the film tries to reach for poignancy by reaching for Greg’s feelings of rejection and displacement, you’ll find yourself feeling a little more nonplussed than the filmmakers probably intended.
That is not newcomer Drucker’s fault, who for the most part is just as endearingly hapless as Zachary Gordon was in the last three movies. Same goes for Scott and Silverstone, who settle into their roles as Greg’s parents nicely. There has been much fan outcry over the re-casting of these characters, but we think it would have been even more awkward trying to make Gordon look like he still belongs in middle school or switch Gordon and the rest of the child actors out but keep Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris as Greg’s parents. If anything, the most sorely missed presences are that of Grayson Russell and Karan Baar, who played the freckle-faced Fregley and the diminutive know-it-all Chirag, neither character of which is present in this family-centred movie.
In fact, this fourth ‘Wimpy Kid’ movie is less charming or enjoyable than the earlier ones because it ultimately follows the ‘everything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong’ template of countless other family road trip movies. Not only does it lose the distinctive appeal of Greg’s similarly-aged middle-school misfits, it also doesn’t do the gags that we can recognise a mile away better. Yet, for that matter it isn’t worse than your average family comedy, so if you’re looking for some harmless fun with the kids, ‘The Long Haul’ will probably do fine. As a reboot-in-kind for the ‘Wimpy Kid’ film series, well let’s just say it doesn’t make a case for the next one to come anytime sooner or at all.
(No more - and no less - than your average family road trip gone wrong comedy, this fourth chapter in the 'Wimpy Kid' film series skimps on the charms of the middle-school misfits from its predecessors and comes up less for it)
Review by Gabriel Chong