An under-the-radar kids' franchise, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has carried through to round 3 for reasons that are obvious if you think about it.
It's "safe" family fare (in Diary 2, the bad-boy brother Rodrick threw an out-of-control high school party with no booze or kids throwing up). It has a high enough laugh-ratio of things children can relate to (boogers, toddlers peeing in pools, pint-sized humiliations like losing one's swim trunks), with assists from occasional comical snippets of line-drawn animation.
And then there's the foolishness of adults. Kids never get tired of that.
The filmmakers who've adapted Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid series still know the sweet spots, even when - as in the case of the lesser installment like Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days - they can't seem to decide on a story.
Everybody's a little older in this what-the-Wimpy-Kid-did-on-his-summer vacation film. Indeed, Zachary Gordon, who plays the title character Greg, is already starting to get that honk in his voice, giving one pause over how long he can continue playing a "kid."
But basically, Dog Days can be summarized as a bunch of stuff that happens.
The movie opens as school finishes, with Greg anticipating a summer of videogame playing and Rodrick (Devon Bostick) looking forward to sleep (with occasional jam sessions with his band Loded Diper). Meanwhile, Mom and dad (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn) have no end of hilariously frightening/boring ideas to fill the kids' time, including running a book club, taking part in a Civil War re-enactment, interning at dad's office and heading off to wilderness camp.
Greg's "out" appears when his portly, good-natured best-friend Rowley (Robert Capron) reveals that his parents have a family membership at a country club. This gives Greg a chance to be cozy with the love of his life Holly (Peyton List), who's teaching tennis.
And it gives Rodrick a chance to make a fool of himself crashing the place to try out his "cool" on Holly's mean-girl sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh). There's a predictable-but-fun anarchic meeting of Loded Diper and the stuffy country club crowd, and a camping trip where father-and-son bond amid antics with honey, ants and a tent-fire.
And there's a dog. For no apparent reason (perhaps simply in deference to the title), Greg's family gets a dog named Sweety, who gets one big "bad dog" scene involving a pot roast.
If Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days does come off as a bunch of set pieces "held together with boogers and raisins" like baby brother Manny's blanket, it at least still aims its kid-level grossness squarely at the audience that appreciates it most.