Released a year ago, the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie captured remarkably little of the sly charm of the Jeff Kinney books that line my son’s bookshelf. The film did, however, capture enough of the fan base to warrant a sequel. And here we are. And it’s a little better.
With Wimpy Kid I, I couldn’t get past the blech factor of snot, mold and grossout gags laid out, flatly, in a stilted live-action feature spiced with a few transitional animated sequences. Maybe I’ve simply adjusted my expectations downward. But Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, whose subtitle refers to long-suffering protagonist Greg Heffley’s tormenting older brother, feels less pushy and more relaxed, at least. I didn’t laugh much, nor did my 10-year-old companions, but nobody had their soul crushed by the experience. This is the film industry’s Hippocratic oath: First, crush no souls.
Greg, played by Zachary Gordon, is heading into seventh grade in his overwhelmingly lily-white town. His pal Rowley (Robert Capron, who has yet to discover a neutral expression; everything is either manic grinning or overt panicking) devotes his spare time to perfecting magic tricks for the community talent show. The surly, dimwitted Rodrick, played by Devon Bostick, plays drums in his band (band name: “Loded Diper”) and has dreams of raging, partying rock ’n’ roll glory.
The Kinney books are episodic to the extreme and anecdotal in nature; the screenwriters on Wimpy Kid 2, Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, have concocted a storyline in which Rodrick and Greg become enemies, then uneasy allies, then enemies, then friends, as Greg nurses a middle-school crush on the new girl (Peyton List). All the well-worn John Hughes stereotypes remain in force. “She’s out of your league,” Greg’s told. “There is no way that girl will ever talk to you.” While I recognize the severe social stratification afflicting most every aspect of American life, just once I’d like to see a kid-aimed picture that doesn’t proceed from the assumption that Character A is out of Character B’s league.
Gordon and Bostick have settled into their roles nicely. Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn as the boys’ parents add solid, vaguely human support. David Bowers, who comes from animation, directed the film, and longtime Clint Eastwood associate Jack Green photographed it. Why the interiors look so cruddy is a mystery.
— MCT, Tribune Media Service