Film Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Rather than make you smile and delight once more in the joys of childhood, this thudding family offering leaves you with a headache.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is a quick follow-up to last year’s hit based on the best-selling children's book series by Jeff Kinney. It again focuses on Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), small in stature and decidedly unprepossessing, as he starts seventh grade. Adolescence is anything but a golden time for him, as he must contend with school bullies and being the mistreated middle child, stuck between a-hole older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and tattling little Manny (Owen and Connor Fielding). His parents, Frank and Susan (Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris), are, as is usual in these things, totally clueless. Greg is also hopelessly smitten with the lovely, popular Holly (Peyton List) and fears he doesn't stand a chance of impressing her, something with which his fat, loser wannabe magician of a best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), is certainly no help.

The filmmakers try hard to make this fit family entertainment—too hard. Everything is pitched so high and obviously, it makes even the most mediocre, desperate TV sitcom seem a model of elegant subtlety by comparison. Example: Greg is mortified when, in the car on the way to church, he sits on a chocolate bar that makes his pants look like, as Manny so helpfully shrieks, "Poo!" Daddy leaps in to wipe him down—with an unseemly ferocious intensity—and when this wardrobe malfunction is spotted, the entire congregation screams, "Poo!" Greg desperately tries to prove them wrong by rubbing the stain with his hand and licking it, eliciting a universal "Ew!" This strained sequence pretty much says everything about the film's misguidedly pushy idea of farce. Director David Bowers also gets too fancy for his own good, littering the film with elaborate fantasy scenes which are emanations of Greg's daydreaming mind, but prove only an annoying distraction throughout.

Gordon, who looks like a miniature Dan Futterman, disconcertingly plays Greg like some ancient, eternally put-upon Catskills comedian along the lines of George Burns. Bostick, who has the unusual features of a mythical faun, does snark to an abrasive fare-thee-well, but may find a droooling, pre-teen fan base. Harris, wearing Tina Fey glasses, goes for a similar wry attitude but cannot overcome the scripted lameness of her character, doling out "Mom dollars" (read: play money) in exchange for her son's good behavior. One can only feel for Zahn, stuck once more in a lame farce, with no option but to overdo it on the sidelines. Capron is a total ham, both histrionically and physically, as Rowley, while enormous-eyed Karan Brar, as Chirag Gupta, Greg's on-and-off-again little Indian friend, is pure nattering racial stereotype. Exquisite Peyton List at least offers something lovely to look at, a rare grace note amidst the overreaching din.