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.
Gordon and Bostick are appealing young actors with bright futures, but the adults in this Wimpy Kid have more for which to answer. Steve Zahn, who plays the boys’ father and who has shown admirable depth as an actor in films like Sunshine Cleaning and Rescue Dawn, is left to do little more in Wimpy Kid than mug for the camera. Harris has a larger role as Greg's and Rodrick’s mom, but her most memorable moment comes when she makes a fool of herself in front of a large crowd.
The film’s message, or lesson, boils down to “we’re brothers”—words uttered more than once as a way of explaining the enduring importance of brotherly love. But the message feels forced in a film that plays like a TV sitcom driven by gags, not moral lessons. This Kid contains a few chuckles, but nothing particularly cinematic or memorable.
Everything that seemed fresh and unpredictable about the previous Wimpy Kid film has vanished or grown flabby for this installment. The film looks cheap and, worse, feels rushed.
If you’re a Wimpy Kid fan, you might want to revisit the first film or stick to Kinney’s books rather than pay top dollar to see Rodrick Rules. Perhaps a weaker showing at the box-office for this Kid will give the makers of a potential third film pause, and lead to a better screenplay and more inspired visual treatment of the material. Otherwise, the natural home for future Kid films is on the small screen.
- Language/Profanity: “Oh my God”; “jerk”; chocolate stain on pants mistaken for “poop”; “holy pepperoni”; name-calling (“nerds,” “doofus”); “suck”; “fart”; “butt brain.”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: A child sings along to a song lyric that states he “leaves with a bottle of Jack”; Rodrick throws a party while his parents are out of town, but snacks and soda appear to be the food and beverage of choice.
- Sex/Nudity: Girls kiss Rowley on the cheek; Greg runs in his underwear and is later accused of being a peeping tom.
- Violence/Crime: Rodrick smacks the back of Greg’s head; Rowley sits on a tin foil ball with protrusions; sibling taunts include Rodrick locking Greg in the basement.
- Religion/Morals: The family attends a church service; Rodrick encourages Greg to lie to their parents; Greg hands in a school paper written by his brother
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