Look, if you saw the trailers for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” the fact that it is one of the least entertaining movies likely to be released this year shouldn’t come as a shock. All the poop jokes, poorly rendered CGI vomit jokes, butt jokes, pointless mugging at the camera and forced lessons that were shown off in the trailers are on display in the full film as well. If that kind of thing sounds appealing, then you may find this to be the best comedy ever made. If not, it’s possible you may wish to spend your time doing anything else.
“The Long Haul” finds the Heffley family — completely miscast due to a combination of the natural course of aging and God having mercy on the previous actors — embarking on a cross country road trip for their grandmother’s 90th birthday party. Shenanigans ensue, as they are wont to do. This time most of said shenanigans stem from Mom deciding that her children need to learn to appreciate family and taking away their phones.
Likewise, it is from this decision that the movie’s most annoying attribute springs: its demonization of young people and anything and everything they enjoy. There are times “The Long Haul” feels like every seventy-year-old who spends their time posting Breitbart editorials on Facebook about why young people are the worst thing since Obama himself got together to write a movie. “Look at these youths who can’t live without their phones,” it seems to sneer with each passing scene, “with their technology and their YouTubes and their costume-players and their rock and their roll.” Eventually, this plotline is resolved, though it must happen off-screen, because nothing that happens onscreen shows any of the characters learning their lesson.
Even setting that aside, “The Long Haul” lacks the most important aspect of any movie: strong direction. Without this, a movie is like a train without a conductor. The director is responsible for taking each individual aspect of a movie and shaping it into something entertaining. They work with the script. They work with the actors. They work with the boom operator and the boom operator’s assistant. In “The Long Haul,” one would be forgiven for thinking that returning director David Bowers came to set each day and immediately fell asleep in the darkest corner he could find, because it is clear that no one received any direction.
In addition to the film as a whole being at least 20 minutes too long — and at only 90 minutes, that’s no small feat — this applies most of all to the actors. When any given performer is onscreen but not reading lines, it is common for them to stare off blankly into space. We can’t know for sure, but we can likely assume that we are watching a group of people collectively contemplate every life decision that lead them to starring in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”
It’s not as if the script does the cast any favors either. Not only is every character on display a putrid combination of unlikeable and simply, egregiously stupid, but they are given no funny material with which to work. When it isn’t stealing a bit word-for-word from “Dumb and Dumber,” it’s either telegraphing its jokes so far in advance that they lose all humor or making jokes that will go over the head of every child in the audience. The most bizarre of these scenes finds Bower doing an extended homage to “Psycho,” because there’s nothing kids love more than Hitchcock, right?
It isn’t without any humor; ironically the only comically astute member of the cast is Charlie Wright (“Ingrid West”), who’s casting prompted one of the strangest Twitter campaigns in recent memory with #NotMyRodrick. However, “The Long Haul” is best summed up as a movie that preaches that kids, its main audience, suck, as do all the things they enjoy. With that in mind, I can’t think of a worse “kids movie” to show to children.