DVD Release Date: June 21, 2011  
Theatrical Release Date: March 25, 2011
Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and mischief)
Genre: Comedy, Adaptation
Run Time: 96 min.
Director: David Bowers
Actors: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn, Peyton List, Karan Brar, Grayson Russell

The title of the new movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules might give post-colon prominence to Rodrick (Devon Bostick), but it remains the story of “wimpy kid” Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon, The Search for Santa Paws) and his travails in middle school. Like the transitional adolescent phase the story depicts, the film is a bit awkward and unsettled, and it shows alarming signs that the Wimpy Kid movie franchise, based on the books by Jeff Kinney, is in danger of regressing into an episodic series of loosely related story elements that never cohere into a satisfying narrative.

As the film opens, Greg is starting seventh grade—the killing field of adolescence, even if one doesn’t have to contend with an obnoxious older brother. That would be Rodrick, who delights in making Greg miserable.

That hostility isn’t lost on the boys’ mom (Rachael Harris, The Hangover), who proposes a new system called “mom bucks” to incentivize good behavior and encourage the boys to spend more time together. But Rodrick soon learns how to game the system without strengthening the bond with his brother, allowing him to concentrate on the prospect of performing with his band in a local talent show.

Were the film to develop its sibling-rivalry storyline, it might have generated more warmth, or more laughs, than the frenetic, fractured story that ended up on-screen, which adds several other characters and side stories to the mix. There’s Greg’s budding romance with classmate Holly Hills (Peyton List, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice); his continuing friendship with Rowley (Robert Capron, Bride Wars), who had a larger role in the first Wimpy Kid film; the ups and downs of his mom’s career as a local advice columnist; Greg’s travails with a teacher determined to not like Greg from day one of the school year; and Rodrick’s new bandmate, a guitarist Rodrick believes is the secret ingredient that will help him win the talent show. And those are just a few of the film’s disparate story threads.

While Rodrick Rules is not particularly offensive, it’s generic and bland. Director David Bowers cut his teeth on second-tier animated comedies like Astro Boy and Flushed Away, while writers Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah worked together recently on TV shows like 90210 and Life as We Know It. Put them together and the expected result—a tepid visual presentation and TV-style gags—is precisely what you get with Rodrick Rules. Thor Freudenthal, director of the first Wimpy Kid film, did a much better job of providing some charm and visual panache to his treatment of Kinney’s characters.