23 May 2011

Movie Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules


C+

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
2011, 99mins, U
Director: David Bowers
Writer (s): Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah, Jeff Kinney (novel)
Cast includes: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Peyton List
UK Release Date: 27th May 2011

I missed last year’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, something which leaves me at a unique critical crossroads when reviewing its sequel “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules”. Adapted from a popular series of books by author Jeff Kinney, “Rodrick Rules” feels like a sketch show for nippers, a selection of gags coated with the thinnest conceivable layer of narrative. It’s a curious project to watch unfold, with random characters sifting in and out of proceedings without a hint of context, yet, thanks to some solid performances and genial tomfoolery it’s all remarkably tolerable.

After a stressful summer, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is eager for a return to school, so he might be reunited with tubby best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), and attempt to climb up the seventh grade social ladder. Taking a fancy to new girl in class Holly (Peyton List), Greg has his plan all worked out, but constantly finds his obnoxious and lazy older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) deflating his advances. With relations between Rodrick and Greg having hit an all time low, mother Susan (Rachael Harris) insists the two spend more time together. Against all odds the brothers begin to bond, finding joy in each other’s company through acts of silliness, but eventually things come crashing down when Rodrick’s big chance as an amateur musician is threatened.

The cast attack the material gamely, embracing the film’s goofy sensibility from the start. Seasoned performers like Steve Zahn (a scene-stealer as Greg and Rodrick’s neurotic father) and Rachael Harris don’t take the script too seriously, whilst the greener participants make for lovable protagonists. Lead Zachary Gordon grows in confidence as “Rodrick Rules” progresses, sparking effectively off the equally sprightly Bostick. The actors develop an agreeable rapport, the picture’s domestic setting exuding a relatable familial aura due to the relaxed and assured chemistry shared between the thespians. It’s simply pleasant to view a family orientated picture in which the children refuse to be gratingly irritating and the adults aren’t slumming for easy cash. It’s a low bar to set, but at least “Rodrick Rules” successfully clears it.

The screenplay seems predominately fascinated with the theme of brotherhood, neglecting the school subplots in order to focus on Greg and Rodrick. As a result this facet of the movie works best, “Rodrick Rules” boasting a crisply defined arc between the warring siblings, stocked with sound morals and enjoyable comedy. There’s a real charm in watching Bostick and Gordon reluctantly connect, the actors finding the correct amount of nuance to lace their relationship with a hint of believability. However the other components of “Rodrick Rules” are far patchier, some work due to laugh value, most should have been nixed early in production. Director David Bowers exhibits a rusty editorial hand here, keeping too many worthless tidbits in what is already a strangely overstretched product. Granted, despite the idea going nowhere, it is funny to watch a cherubic teen sing along to Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” for the YouTube derived amusement of his peers, but a useless segment in which an Indian classmate is treated like he’s invisible? Not so much.

I’m not sure how fans of the initial motion picture or even Kinney’s literature will respond to “Rodrick Rules”, but I found it to be sporadically diverting and totally harmless. The film hasn’t got a malicious bone in its body (heck, there’s a high school party depicted in which everyone appears to only be drinking soda), and the jokes should stimulate giggles from youngsters. Parents and babysitters really could do much worse.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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