Zachary Gordon as Gregory ‘Greg’ Heffley
Devon Bostick as Rodrick Heffley
Rachael Harris as Susan Heffley
Robert Capron as Rowland ‘Rowley’ Jefferson
Steve Zahn as Frank Heffley
Connor and Owen Fielding as Manuel ‘Manny’ Heffley
Karan Brar as Chirag Gupta
Laine MacNeil as Patty Farrell
Grayson Russell as Fregley
Peyton R. List as Holly Hills
Andrew McNee as Coach Malone
Fran Kranz as Bill Walter
It’s another year and another grade but despite now being an experienced seventh grader, life hasn’t changed too much for Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon). He and best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) still reside well below the popular rung of the junior high ladder, his parents still dote on his little brother too much, and his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) is still intent on tormenting him.
It’s really hard to write original comedic material about youth for the young but Jeff Kinney’s novels have given it a good shot, artfully melding the over-the-top antics we imagine that pre-teen age to be with the reality of what it is. It’s the kind of story producers of similar demographically targeted television seem to want to do but end up watering down into annoying pabulum by making bad bets on what they think they’re audience is going to find funny. Which is why it’s so unfortunate that people like that have been put in charge Kinney’s second adaptation, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.”
The idea seems to be that all of his years in animation have prepared director David Bowers (“Flushed Away,” “Astro Boy”) to be able to appease a similar audience in his live-action debut. And depending on your point of view, I suppose he has as the second “Wimpy Kid” tends to play like one of the myriad age-appropriate sitcoms on the Disney Channel right down to the overdone stereotypes and warmed-over gags. Greg’s friend Chirag (Karan Brar) is Indian and thus a technophile who is too blunt for interacting with humans. His other pal Fregley (Grayson Russell) is supposed to be the class nerd, I think, but comes off as socially awkward to the point of being handicapped, not realizing that thrown-away pizza is not suitable for eating and neither is pre-chewed gum.
And then there’s Rodrick, Greg’s teenage older brother who interacts with Greg in only one of two ways, ignoring him or tormenting him by instigating much of the humiliation humor “Wimpy Kid’s” jokes are based on. In some ways he’s Rodrick as seen through Greg’s eyes–entrusted with unearned responsibility but unable to spell the word door–but that also makes him hard to relate to, even as an antagonist, if you’re not Greg.
In the only really affecting part of the film, Greg and Rodrick are forced to put aside their differences in order to cover-up an illicit party Rodrick threw. Despite themselves they actually begin growing closer as siblings, to the point where Rodrick actually decides to entrust some of his rules for living on young Greg. Those are going to work out about as well as you think, but the process of it is actually heartwarming in the way the filmmakers obviously intend.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t work out as well. The amount of time devoted to Greg and Rodrick’s relationship takes the place of most of the good chemistry between Gordon and Capron from the first film. Outside of the main dynamic, there’s a constant struggle for balance as Bowers and his screenwriters throw several subplots at the wall–Greg’s interest in the new girl in school (Peyton List), an upcoming local talent show–in a vain effort to keep the plot moving forward and fill out a feature length running time.
The result feels like being trapped with “Wizards of Waverly Place” or “The Suite Life” for two hours. Of course shows like that are pretty popular with the targeted age group, but for anyone older you end up just saying ‘that’s not funny’ and ‘these are the worst parents on Earth’ to yourself over and over. More to the point, if you’ve got cable you can already get all that “Wimpy Kid” has to offer elsewhere, so why waste your time and money on it?