Usually when a book series becomes popular with kids, us adults like to trumpet that at least our youngsters are reading something, so we let the material slide. At least, that is, until the movies start to come out. When you're in a theater full of kids for at least 90 minutes, you can't avoid the material they're reading on the printed page, as it flies off of the screen in living color. Before seeing Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, I'd have congratulated the kids of the world for reading, even if it was something as juvenile-looking as the popular series it's based off of. But after enduring the hell that is the fourth film in the franchise, I'm ready to smack this book out of any kid's hands, and give them a Harry Potter book instead.
The Heffley family is hitting the road to celebrate Meemaw's birthday, and as if things couldn't get any worse, Mom (Alicia Silverstone) is imposing a tech ban on the trip! No phones, no screens -- if it glows, it goes! But Greg (Jason Drucker) already has plans on making the trip a little more exciting, as he's scheming to divert the family trip to a gaming convention. If Greg plays his cards right, he'll meet his YouTube idol. If not, he may have ruined the family vacation for nothing.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is a purely annoying children's movie, with some genuine laughs sprinkled throughout. Some are planned, while the others are due to one's own twisted sense of humor. Those moments will get you buy as you endure everything from a useless rivalry with another family on vacation, the horrors of roadside accommodations, and incessant nagging of Alicia Silverstone's Susan, who is determined to "connect" with her kids and show them "the real America." No joke, she utters those exact phrases in the film, and it hurts as much as when you just read them.
In fact, the way Susan is written and treated in the material is probably the laziest part of this fourth film's story. Most family movies tread similar ground, but don't try to make you actively hate this character. After all, she is the mother of the family, and to a certain extent she's laying down the law because she has to. But the way that Silverstone's member of the Heffley clan goes to work is as grating and shrewy as possible. With the way this film treats her character, I'm surprised they don't hand out "Homework Sucks!" bumper stickers with every ticket purchased this weekend.
As for that unnecessary family rivalry, that's due to a set-up so simple and stupid that it didn't deserve to live through the 1990's era of kids' films, much less make it into today's cinemas. What ensues is a running gag throughout the film that takes up a good portion of running time, and even tries re-enacting the shower scene from Psycho for laughs. Instead, it generates some groans for not only treading well worn ground, but also thinking it's somehow a treat for the older audience members to see this moment lampooned yet again.
What's probably the most annoying part of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is the way it handles the technology debate you see on every major network, and ironically, sprinkled throughout think pieces and mommy blogs on the internet. Technology is the devil in this film, but judging by how it's portrayed through a lazy impression of what a "Let's Play" YouTuber acts like, you can't really blame its demonization. While this might be a part of the book's inherent structure, a proper screenwriting team could have revised this into something a little more movie friendly. Though considering Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney is the co-writer to this film, it's no surprise that the story's as crudely drawn as one of his stick figure laden comic strips.
If you absolutely must take your children to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, you are truly pitied. The brief glimpses of fun and comedy are sparsely scattered rest stops on this trip of fear and loathing through a wasteland of a family vacation. If you can help it, don't stop here. This is Brat Country.