Serial book adaptations are where it’s at, folks. They’re like the vocational school of cinematic output and, in a purely analogical sense, as profitable and cheaply attainable as a welding license as compared to the lofty yet unmarketable liberal arts degree. While I ordinarily would take great care to stay away from such a depressing introduction to a review, the sheer fact of the matter is that quality family entertainment doesn’t mean nearly as much to Hollywood relative to the ease of churning out a series of ready-made crap. Once a studio latches onto such a franchise, there’s just no turning back; last year’s $75 million take on the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie has taken this principle to startling new heights of sheer tedium.
With this sequel, director David Bowers (Astro Boy) makes his first stab at live action and takes over where Thor Freudenthal left off with the first movie. Mostly, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is just more of the same gimmick, wherein filmmakers insert stick-figure animation from within the journal of the young protagonist to transition between episodic tales of middle school humiliation. This time around, Greg (Zachary Goron) trudges through seventh grade while the filmmakers whip out this sequel at warp speed just to be able to film these kids while they can still play middle schoolers. So this movie resumes where Greg’s BFF, Rowley (Robert Capron); his friend Chirag (Karan Brar); his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick); and his clueless parents (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn) all left off last time. Basically, the entire principal cast from the first movie returns except for Chloe Moretz, who (presumably) had better things to do. In her place, Greg finds a love interest in the new girl at school, Holly (Peyton List), as he navigates between such rites of passage as a skating party and a school talent show. Joy.
With continuity of cast and story intact, Greg’s character is now reflective of the personal growth he experienced last year. In seventh grade, Greg’s a bit less of an arrogant asshole and much less of a dick to his best friend. Still, he remains in eternal search of the magic popularity potion. This search remains in vain, for he’s too uncool to hang with the general population but not quite dweeby enough to be a good fit with the geeks either. Yet this time around, these humiliations at school aren’t much of a focus, since there are plenty of sixth graders to take the heat off Greg this year. However, these former difficulties are swiftly replaced by Greg’s minefield of a home life, thanks to the borderline sadist Rodrick, who takes great joy in exercising the older sibling privilege of generally making little brother’s life as hellish as possible.
On a PG basis, anyway.
The theme of sibling rivalry would be just fine for a kid’s movie if it were executed with any relish at all. Unfortunately, the Ballad of Greg and Rodrick is merely a series of alternations between brotherly torture and shared hijinks that does not entertain but merely fills in most of the running time for this sequel. Those audience members who actually enjoyed the broad, gross-out humor of the first movie will be thrilled to learn that the second movie at least attempts to maintain the “disgusto” factor of the first installment, but these movies are pure anecdotal fluff that’s been watered down severely and would, honestly, play better on the Disney channel in between insipid reruns of “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.” Now, tweener boys might eat this crap up, but parents will find very little entertainment value with watching Rodrick engineer sketchy situations wherein Greg ends up trapped in the women’s bathroom at his grandpa’s retirement home while wearing only his underwear. Or when Greg shows up at church with a strategic chocolate stain on the seat of his khakis. Or even when Rodrick locks Greg in the basement while he throws a party where exciting things happen such as drinking soda and toilet-papering trees.
In the end, neither Greg nor Rodrick learns anything from these adventures, and a lack of real character growth only further emphasizes the absence of reasons for you to spend money on this dreck. Ultimately, Greg’s more of a wimp in this sequel, and his further humiliations do not teach the same sort of invaluable lessons as during the first movie. At this point, Hollywood’s only got three more books in the series upon which to capitalize. Hopefully, they’ll at least try to have a point next time.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.