Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules: Film Review

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2011
20th Century Fox

Greg (Zachary Gordon, center) meets up with pals Rowley (Robert Capron, left), Fregley (Grayson Russell) and Chirag (Karan Brar).

A somewhat witty kids movie falls victim to sequelitis.

Unfortunately, this time the Wimpy Kid, somewhat offbeat and even witty in the original film, more than earns his name.

Whatever happened to the Wimpy Kid? A year after the original film surprised adults by being a kids’ movie with a degree of wit, a sequel arrives, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, that ispositively wimpy. The blame settles pretty evenly across all the force fields of a studio movie production — producers who evidently didn’t understand the success of the original, writers who rushed through a half-baked screenplay and a new director whose ham-fisted direction throws nearly every scene out of kilter.

The good will generated by the original film, which was also based on Jeff Kinney’s series of animated novels about middle-school life, will ensure a winning theatrical launch. But word about its wimpy-ness will seep out fast enough over social networks so Fox shouldn’t anticipate anything close to the box-office success of the original.

The charm of the first film lay in the rather cool attitude of its diarist — pre-teen Greg Heffley, who maintains his journal against the day when his own fame will create a desperate need for information about his early years — and his acute observations about the hierarchy of popularity that dominates school life. The movie’s missteps mostly came in his home life with parents who seemed more juvenile than him and an older brother whose bullying quickly became a tedious running gag.

Well, guess what? The sequel is all about Greg’s home life, his inane parents and, yes, that bratty brother. This time, tedium sets in early and never loosens its grip. The gags are obvious, predictable and dull, while the characters have been stripped of all life thanks to the filmmakers’ determination to stress quirks over behavior.

Zachary Gordon, a young actor who continues to show promise even in this forlorn affair, returns as Greg, more confident now that he’s graduated to the seventh grade but still full of anxiety, this time over the appearance of a new girl in school, the lovely Holly Hills (Peyton List), who, everyone assures him, is out of his league. Only the thing is, Greg is never certain to what league he actually belongs.

Had the movie pursued with more vigor a storyline involving Greg’s first crush, it may have had some life. But this unfortunately is a mere subplot in a story dominated by the growing hostility between Greg and his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick). The latter’s incessant harassment along with his casual delinquency edges the movie into the uncomfortable area of pathological behavior, whether intended or not.

Even worse though, mom and dad, again the luckless Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn, are so lame that the adult actors are forced to mug their way through nearly every scene.

Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah, one of the two writing teams from the original film, run through a series of tepid and trite gags involving roller-rinks, school hijinks and a horror film viewed on a sleepover that gives Greg and best pal Rowley (Robert Capron) nightmares.

Animator David Bowers (Flushed Away, Astro Boy), making his live-action feature debut, directs as if he were still making cartoons. Gesture and facial expression are invariably too big and character behavior hugely exaggerated. The whole movie is pitched to the Peanut Gallery so ruthlessly that any possibility of whimsy or charm is crushed like a bug at a picnic.

The jokey music and limp production values on this Vancouver-based production don't help matters.

Opens: March 25 (20th Century Fox)
Production companies: Fox 2000 presents a Color Force production
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn, Peyton List, Karan Brar, Laine MacNeil
Director: David Bowers
Screenwriters: Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah
Based on the book by: Jeff Kinney
Producers: Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson
Executive producer: Jeff Kinney
Director of photography: Jack Green
Production designer: Brent Thomas
Music: Edward Shearmur
Costume designer: Tish Monaghan
Editor: Troy Takaki
Rated PG, 100 minutes