Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules takes our intrepid wimpy hero through seventh grade, with more struggles to be “popular,” more efforts to make his unaffected, unpretentious and childish pal Rowley less of an embarrassment. It makes more of an effort to connect the movies with the Jeff Kinney books, with more animation in the Kinney stick-figure style.It also takes a long time to get going. Apparently seventh grade doesn’t pack as much potential for amusing, scarred-for-life trauma as sixth grade. The problems of Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) lie much closer to home, this time around. His baby brother Manny is old enough to talk and to rat him out. And older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) has become “the king of laziness, except when it comes to torturing me.” Thus Greg’s academic career is hampered by teachers who tar him with the same brush as his underachieving sibling. Greg’s crush on the willowy new blond model-classmate, Holly Hills (Peyton List), is doomed by Rodrick’s pranks at the skating rink and at church. Thankfully, Mom (Rachael Harris) has noticed the boys aren’t getting along. A delusional self-help newspaper columnist, she concocts a scheme to pay them to get along. The sibling rivalry doesn’t have much to offer until late in the film, when Rodrick starts passing on his “rules” for getting by to the wimpy kid: “Don’t be good at something you don’t want to do” — say, washing Dad’s car. “Always lower Mom and Dad’s expectations.” Another Mom trick, forcing the boys to spend the weekend with their grandpa in a retirement home, leads to a funny chase-in-his-underwear memory for Greg. As kids’ entertainment, Rodrick Rules is harmless enough. But it’s less broad than the first film and less funny. Animator-turned-director David Bowers has little to work with in this script and once again no money to spend on funnier actors in supporting roles. Steve Zahn, playing the dad who is wise to the ways of boys, manages a laugh here and there, as does Harris as the smothering-hovering mom. But most of the Westmore Middle School classmates seem to have aged out of their amusing years. Without more giggles, this sequel simply wimps out.
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Rachel Harris, Steve Zahn.
Director: David Bower.
Screenwriters: Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, based on the book by Jeff Kinney.
Producer: Jeff Kinney.
A Twentieth Century Fox release. Running time: 98 minutes. Mild rude humor and mischief. Playing at area theaters.