I’m probably the last person in the world who should be reviewing Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. For one thing, I didn’t like its predecessor, in which cruelty and juvenile humor took precedence over believable characters and a compelling plot. But more to the point, the film is about brothers taking those first steps towards bonding, and as an only child, this is something I can’t relate to. Without that emotional well to draw from, I can only judge this film for what it presents on the surface, which, even for something that’s family oriented, isn’t all that much. That being said, I have to admit that it didn’t stir within me the intense dislike I felt for the first film; more of an effort was made with character development, the jokes were far less disgusting, and the story wasn’t as sophomoric. It is, quite simply, an improvement.
That doesn’t make it worth recommending. Rather than repulsion, I felt a benign indifference watching this movie. Just like its predecessor, it exists on a channel outside my range of communication, and that doesn’t help when the intention is to capture the essence of being a wimpy kid. There isn’t a single character or situation that I could identify with – and I would wager most of the people I went to junior high would feel the exact same way. We knew no such kids as Greg Heffley or Rowley Jefferson or Patty Farrell. We never had anything like The Cheese Touch; I should think we were too old to be that ridiculously superstitious. Far be it from me to sound like a curmudgeon who begins every conversation with the words “back in my day,” but really, whose childhood is being depicted here? Certainly not anyone I grew up with. Jeff Kinney, author of the original books, must have been a very unlucky child.
Since the events of the first movie, Greg (Zachary Gordon) and his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), have entered the seventh grade, where they encounter a whole new series of adolescent misadventures. Greg develops a crush on a new student named Holly Hills – which, if you’ll forgive me, is better suited as a stage name for an exotic dancer. Holly (Peyton R. List) is a nice enough young woman, although Greg is terrified of embarrassing himself in front of her. Naturally, this means that he will do exactly that on more than one occasion. If I may digress for a moment, I’m wondering where the title comes from, since Greg is anything but wimpy. He’s more unfortunate than anything else; just wait until you see how he ends up the ladies room of a retirement home, where, dressed only in his underwear, he’s forced to crawl underneath each stall in an attempt to escape. Rest assured, not all of the stalls are unoccupied.
The story centers on the relationship between Greg and his teenage brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who does whatever he can to make Greg’s life a living hell. Noticing that her boys aren’t getting along, the mom, Susan (Rachael Harris) devises a well-intentioned but easily abused Mom Bucks system: The longer they can spend together without fighting, the more play money they will earn, and the more they earn, the more they can trade in for actual money. The dad, Frank (Steve Zahn), always has a goofy, skeptical expression on his face, as if reinforcing the notion that brothers are natural born enemies who will always lie to their parents. Is he right? You tell me. I’ve never been in that position.
When the parents leave the house for the weekend, as they tend to do in movies like this, Rodrick breaks the rules by throwing a party. The long and short of it is, the party and its aftermath get Rodrick and Greg on the path towards tolerating each other’s company. At a certain point, they actually start to like each other (although neither one will admit it). When that happens, Rodrick lets Greg in on his rules for living the easy life, hence the movie’s subtitle. This plays into Rodrick’s ambition to be a drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band – he wants to be shiftless and answerable to no one, preferably while on the road in a filthy and very unsafe van.
Is any of this compelling? Not really, but there are a few select scenes that, in their own juvenile ways, are charming. I liked the scene in which Greg and Rodrick prank the customers of a 7-Eleven-type store by leaving a pile of fake vomit on their windshields; they take it too far when one of the customers ends up being the school gym teacher, a man who clearly has no sense of humor. I also enjoyed the part in which Greg and Rodrick frantically clean the house to erase any evidence of the party; they can’t make it look too clean, so Rodrick spills pretzel crumbs onto the carpet. These small touches help make Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules tolerable, but it would have been nice if the filmmakers had tried just a little harder. Still, progress has been made. If this trend continues, I may actually recommend the next installment.
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20th Century Fox