Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
What It Is
When last we saw Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) — just one year ago — he was completing his first year of middle school. Now, he and his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) are no longer lowly sixth graders, but instead, confident seventh graders. Or... mostly confident. As Greg reveals in his voice-over, he’s still plagued by self-doubts and determined to prove that he’s not.
From the moment Greg spots the radiant new girl in school, Holly (Peyton List), he’s smitten — so smitten that he’s easy prey to teasing by his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who immediately sets him up to look silly in front of a roller-rink full of neighbors and classmates. From here, Greg’s efforts to appease Rodrick only lead to one disaster after another, helped along by the fact that their mother Susan (Rachael Harris) imagines they’ll learn to get along if only they spend time together.
This relationship — predictable and increasingly rambunctious — is the movie’s focus. Rodrick uses every scheme he thinks of to torment, trick, and embarrass his brother. At the same time, Greg feels pressure from his baby brother Manny (Connor and Owen Fielding), who breaks his toys and gets in the way, and has also learned the mantra that defines his inherent innocence: “I’m only thwee!” As mom is distracted not only by Manny, but also her new job as a local newspaper columnist and dad Frank (Steve Zahn) develops a special sort of cluelessness, Greg believes he’s on his own, and so he does whatever he can to defend against Rodrick’s serial offensives.
The boys’ evolving tensions and mutual appreciations lead to assorted physical gags. They also lead to yet another step in Greg’s moral education, as he learns that imperfection is okay, and forgiveness and generosity are signs of maturity.
Why It’s Fun
Like the first film based on Jeff Kinney’s novels, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules cuts between Greg’s semi-wise (though never cynical) narration and his bad behavior. He makes a lot of wrong choices for mostly right-ish reasons, at least in his mind, as he tries desperately to appease Rodrick, avoid parental punishment, and still have fun.
The film’s most consistent pleasure is Rowley, a good kid who is apparently unable to dissemble in any way, shape or form. Thus, he reacts to Greg’s shenanigans with wondrous good humor and occasional anxiety. So, when Greg and Rodrick insist that he lie about a party they’ve had in their parents’ absence, Rowley’s lower lip trembles, his eyes smart, and he forces his mouth into an agonized sort-of smile. Whether he’s performing his magic act, providing Greg with a YouTube subject (hilarious if you’re eight: he sits on a spiky toy and screams) or feeling embarrassed that his dad is retrieving him from yet another botched sleepover, Rowley is a charmer.
Who’s Going To Love It
Viewers who liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid will appreciate the return of Greg, still an appealing movie kid.
In this sequel, Greg indulges in and is subjected to more inane slapstick — as when he’s caught on videotape running around in his underpants at his grandfather’s assisted living facility. But for the most part, he’s the same hero as the last time, just a year older. This means he’s still worried about being called “wimpy.”
This time, viewers have fewer possibilities for girl-character identifications. (No Chloe Moretz, as the cool outsider.) While Holly appears frequently, she’s Greg’s object of affection — running in slow motion on a soccer field, glimpsed across the hallway, her blond hair perfect and her smile impossibly bright. When at last she does have an actual conversation with Greg, she’s warm and sympathetic, but you — and Greg — must wait a long time for this revelation.
What To Be Aware Of
The primary lesson here has to do with lying — don’t do it! But each individual comes to see that lies come in a variety of forms, not always easy to spot as such and sometimes appearing to be the best way out of a bad situation or a kind of reasonable compromise, as family members agree to share secrets in order to put off consequences.
During a sleepover, Greg and Rowley are supposed to watch a safe kids’ video about animated animals, but they sneak in a scary movie, “The Foot.” This spoof of scary movies includes a dark house, an ill-fated young couple, and a severed foot that attacks them in the middle of the night: Rowley and Greg are frightened, imagining they’re being attacked by the foot, resulting in their screaming and running frantically through the house. The lesson here: stick to age-appropriate movies, kids.
Rodrick is the drummer and leader of a rock band he calls “Loded Diper.” As he prepares for an upcoming talent show, he brings in a guitarist, the slightly older Bill (Fran Kranz), slightly older and a “bad influence,” according to Frank. He encourages the band to indulge in fart jokes during rehearsal time, and is ultimately disloyal. He’s also a rather unconvincing character — with a bad long-haired wig and a demeanor that suggests he’s a perpetual stoner and dumb to boot (his tattoo reads: “Music is my sole”).
Binding activities for the brothers include various sorts of trouble-making. When Rodrick has a party at the house while their parents are away, at first he locks Greg in the basement, where shadows are briefly frightening. Once he turns on the light, though, Greg is more intent on escaping so he can watch the high school kids in action (limited to listening to loud music, drinking too much soda, and eating pretzels and chips). The brothers agree to lie to their parents.
Another bonding moment occurs when Rodrick takes Greg out to the local convenience store: they eat hotdogs and slurp brain-freezing drinks, then hide in the parking lot so they can watch hapless victims react to the fake vomit left on their cars — again and again. At last the boys are found out by the coach, who chases them across town and through the mall, until at last they arrive home safe — at least until mom and dad find out about the party and the boys are grounded.
Though it’s less a focus than in the first film, Greg is still worried about his status at school. This time, his concern is filtered through sporadic contests with the domineering Patty (Laine Macneil) and wily Chirag (Karan Brar).
As Greg gets the entire class to pretend Chirag — just returned from a family trip to India — “isn’t there,” the film doesn’t quite underline the fact that Chirag is the only kid of color with a speaking part. But some viewers might wonder about how he’s being used here.
When Greg is running in his underpants, frantically, at the assisted living facility, he’s beset by a group of old women who think he’s a “peeping tom” and a “pervert” because they catch him in the ladies room. They appear as a mob, grabbing and pushing him. It’s not clear whom this scene might amuse.
5 out of 10
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
Director: David Bowers
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn
Studio: 20th Century Fox
US Premiere: March 25, 2011
UK Premiere: May 27, 2011