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‘Long Haul’ has barf jokes plus a few good laughs


The “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series has been, at its core, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” without the rodents.

The formula is maybe 70 percent attention to the plot, and 30 percent set-up and execution of barf, poop and flatulence jokes. A “Wimpy Kid” movie has about as much chance of enduring cinematic greatness as a Chuck E. Cheese animatronic band has of winning a Tony award.

In that realm of adjusted expectations, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is a notably solid effort. As other family-friendly movie franchises (including “Chipmunks” and “Ice Age”) seem to get a double-digit percentage worse each time, this sequel is at least tied for the best in the series.

“The Long Haul” is the fourth film based on the popular graphic novel series by Jeff Kinney, and the first with a rebooted cast. In this one, new Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) is forced on a road trip with his affable but strict parents, who insist on no phones or other digital screens.

Playing the mother is Alicia Silverstone, which is a hell of a sucker punch for those of us who swear she played a teenager in “Clueless” only five or six years ago. (It was actually 22. Just kill me.) She’s an excellent addition, performing the role with an over-the-top flair, but also from a loving, sincere and vaguely relatable place. At her best, she’s reminiscent of Wendi McLendon-Covey’s memorable work in television’s “The Goldbergs.”

As much as this entry takes its “Vacation”-with-more-vomit path, the discussion of kids-and-parents and real-life connections keeps “The Long Haul” grounded in something more than pure escapism. For parents and kids who are constantly fighting about screen time, the ride home from “The Long Haul” might actually be a good place to start peace talks.

Just don’t eat a lot of carnival food beforehand. “The Long Haul” doesn’t just include bodily functions, it shows the puke flying through the air and hitting a man on the face in slow motion. This will delight small children in the audience, but has a numbing effect on adults in the audience with more real-world barf and feces clean-up experience.

A side plot involving a rival road tripping family probably worked well in the more fantastical graphic novel medium, but the crimes and misdemeanors being committed by these families border on disturbing with flesh-and-blood actors involved.

In the end, though, it’s all mostly harmless fun. Jeff Kinney and series director David Bowers are also screenwriters, and their gag-a-minute approach yields the occasional inspired result. Adam Sandler would be envious of the scene where older brother Rodrick (Charlie Wright) tries to put a microwave pizza in a motel safe.

So to recap: Vomit. Screen time. Barf. Alicia Silverstone. Puke. Road trip high jinks. Spew. Microwave pizza.

Generally when a critic has to use a thesaurus to look up another word for “throwing up,” it doesn’t bode well for the film. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” rises above its lowbrow roots.

Peter Hartlaub is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop culture critic. Email: phartlaub@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @PeterHartlaub



Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

ALERT VIEWERFamily comedy. Starring Alicia Silverstone, Jason Drucker, Charlie Wright and Tom Everett Scott. Directed by David Bowers. (Rated PG. 91 minutes.)



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