Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is the silly sequel to 2010 Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and suffers not only from most of the faults of the original, but some of its very own. Based on Jeff Kinney’s popular comic-bookish children’s book series, this film adaptation is a frivolous piece of clichéd nonsense. With a DVD/Blu-Ray release on June 21, anyone (who wants to) can experience the middle-school hi-jinx of Greg Heffley and his clan of outcasts.
While the first film in the series centered on Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) and his middle school humiliations, the second is all about his relationship with his mean older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick). In Kinney’s books, Greg is a smallish middle-schooler (but not the smallest) who decides to start a journal (not a diary, because they are girly). The movie adaptation of the first book wasn’t terrible, and had plenty of relatable moments as Greg and his chunky BFF suffer the ignominies of junior high and the quest for popularity.
There was a silliness to it, but also enough typically awkward school incidents to make it relatable. The second movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, is silly but vapid as well. What struck me, as I endured over an hour of this family-friendly pic, was how utterly frivolous it was. The characters are excessive and loud, but ultimately empty. They lack any substance or authenticity, and thus audiences will have a hard time really connecting with any of them.
In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid sequel, Greg is trying to catch the attention of the pretty new student named Holly Hills. But nothing is simply when your older brother is intent upon destroying your reputation and generally making life miserable for you. Rodrick has his own band, Loded Diper, and when’s he’s not practicing to be a punk rock sensation, he’s torturing his little brother.
After Greg’s parents insist he get along better with his brother, the boys are left alone to spend the weekend together. Rodrick decides to throw a party, and locks Greg in the basement. Chubby best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) gets involved, and things spiral out of control. When the ‘rents announce they’re coming back earlier than planned, the boys band together to clean the place up and cover up the incident, thus allowing them to work together for a common goal. Let the bonding begin.
I don’t think the fun of the books translates successfully to the screen. Kinney started out his career dreaming of being a comic strip writer, which explains the interesting melding of comic book and novel in his “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series. Kinney uses ample comic illustrations throughout his books, and the funny stick-figure drawings aren’t necessary to the story, but often contain joke punch-lines. Though the main characters are in middle school, the ease of the language and the heavy use of comic illustrations make it more popular and appropriate for children from 6 to 8 years old. The film adaptation has the same “simplified” feel, but in film it just comes across as a dumbing down of the material.
While many of the core actors from the first movie returned for the second, I can’t give the sequel points for anything other than consistency. While star Gordon certainly looks the part, he’s not a great actor (yes, I’m taking his age into account). Some of his fellow “wimps” suffered from the same lack of depth, with chubster BFF played by Capron giving one of the better performances. Bostick gave big brother Rodrick a sleazy weirdness. Look at the level of performances from the young cast in Super 8, for example, if you think it’s simply an age thing.
Steve Zahn, a comedic actor I usually like, comes back as Greg’s father. Whether it’s the material, or the fact that Zahn maybe just didn’t really want to be there, his performance was one of the more forced. This is a comedy, and some over-the-top antics are expected, but it felt like all of the characters were playing caricatures of themselves. The actors played their parts borderline campy, to the detriment of the film.
The director must take some credit for the feel of the film. Thor Freudenthal directed the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but did not return for the second. This installment was directed by David Bowers, who has more films under his belt as an animator than a director. That probably explained one of the better conceits, a use of animated illustrations throughout the film. Actual illustrations from the book were animated and thrown in, at first super-imposed over the live action characters and then peeled away to reveal character. This was a fun way to help the audience identify each character from the book, and sometimes the illustrated scenes helped augment a funny moment.
Bowers maintained an atmosphere of chaos, starting from the first scene in the skating rink to the conveniently tidy conclusion. I realize some piling up of comedic action sequences is necessary to keep the wandering attention of a child, but the non-stop silliness became mindless cinematic noise. In fact, the look and feel of this movie reminds me of some sitcoms like Malcolm in the Middle, but with a bigger budget.
The Blu-Ray has some nice visuals. The lines were clear, colors saturated, and no detracting dimness. Since the directing was so straight-forward, most of the scenes are well-lit and forward on, so it looks pretty smooth in HD. The colorful palate of the film, from basic bright colors on clothing to festive backdrops, displays beautifully and brightly. I couldn’t detect any flaws in the transfer, or any black level issues.
With the audio as well I can’t find much to complain about, but not a lot to praise either. There was plenty of dialogue and a pedantic use of soundtrack additions, all of which came through clearly without being lost. There are a few vignette scenes of the kids lip-syncing, or Rodrick’s band performing, which are fun and sound plenty vibrant, and some voice-over narration that also comes through strong.
The Blu-Ray isn’t too bad on extras. There’s an Audio Commentary by both director Bowers and children’s author Kinney. There’s also a playful 9 minutes of vignettes called “My Summer Vacation,” which has Greg and some of his friends each giving a recount of the trouble they got into over summer break.
There’s a mediocre “alternate ending” called Stealthinator. Comprised mostly of an epilogue, the ending wasn’t great but did have the option of a director’s commentary. There’s some deleted scenes, and a gag reel that wasn’t that funny. Bowers was obviously very close to this project, as in almost all the extras, including the deleted scenes, there is the option of a director’s commentary. There’s some interactional stuff with BD-Live, and a theatrical trailer.
Granted, this film is targeted at an audience of 6 to 11-year-olds, but it’s a family film when all is said and done, which means it should have some across-the-board appeal which it doesn’t. It delivered a few laughs, and while the morals of the story are good and some might find relatable moments in the interactions between the Greg and his brother, it all felt artificial. Kids don’t need to be spoon fed vapid caricatures and silly scenarios. I suggest picking up the book instead of the Blu-Ray.