Don't expect Judge Alice Nelson to soft sell a review just because it's a kid's movie.
Our review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (Blu-ray), published July 5th, 2011, is also available.
This movie was lame, but I asked for it.
I asked to review Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules because a friend told me it was a good movie; well, it wasn't but we're still friends—at least for now. I took my friend's word on faith, not having seen the first installment of this franchise and really not wanting to see it because it looked like a silly movie. At least as far as the sequel is concerned, I should've listened to my instincts and steered clear of this mess. I know, I know, I'm not the target audience for this film but I can enjoy a good kid's movie with my children…most of the time. Rodrick Rules is a half baked movie with a mish-mash of plot ideas that didn't work and a host of unlikeable characters in situations that just don't make sense.
Facts of the Case
I can scarcely remember what this movie was about simply because it lacked any kind of substantive plot that was worth following. However, from what I recall, Rodrick Rules is about Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2), a former wimpy sixth grader who is now a slightly less wimpy seventh grader; beginning the school year with the hope to achieve the popularity that eluded him the year before. Part of that hope revolves around the new girl in school, Holly Hills, the object of Greg's affections and whose mere presence causes Greg to do the most ill advised things to try and impress her. Unfortunately Greg's attempts at popularity and at impressing Holly are hampered by his loser older brother Roderick, whose mission it seems is to make Greg's life as miserable as possible.
Simply put, dad is neutered, mom is a nag, big brother is a dufus, little bro Manny is an overly coddled brat, and Greg, well Greg is the unsympathetic wimp we're supposed to be rooting for; this is the essence of Rodrick Rules. Mom (Rachael Harris, The Hangover), an advice columnist for the local paper wants to see her two boys have a close meaningful relationship, nothing wrong with that. However, she gets this bright idea to use something called 'mom bucks' which is fake money the boys can redeem for real cash money if they spend more than an hour with each other without fighting. Bad idea, right? Right. The kids know it's a bad idea, Dad (Steve Zahn, Sunshine Cleaning) knows it, everyone knows it except the so-called expert columnist. But irrelevant and spineless dad (why this man is even in the movie is beyond me), just stands back like a mute and lets his crazy wife enact this obviously flawed plan. Of course her loving boys take complete advantage of the 'mom bucks,' and of mom as well, by breaking all the rules when the folks are out of town. When advice columnist mom finds out about her boys deception, she inexplicably decides it's better to keep the truth from her husband and allow the little demons to go unpunished because in their deceit, at least they were "getting along." I can see the ad now, "Local paper seeks new advice columnist."
Rodrick (Devon Bostick, Saw VI) is Greg's stereotypical unmotivated loser brother with bad grades and only one desire: to be a rock star. We have seen this kind of ne're do well in movies a million times before but in Rodrick Rules, it is a bland and uninteresting portrayal of a character that should be more pivotal in a movie that bears his name. He plays his part like it's a silent movie, with overly done facial expressions and an attempt at slapstick style physical humor done far better by luminaries from the silent age. Besides humiliating his little brother, Rodrick's one motivation is playing in the local talent competition, which he believes is his band's ticket to big time rock and roll success. There is a scene during the talent show that involves Rodrick's mom that is so awkward that I felt a bit of empathy for Rachael Harris for having to be in that embarrassing scene.
Then there's Greg, who flitters about the whole time in what feels like three different movies; one involves his strained relationship with his brother, another is his puppy love for Holly Hills and still another is his relationships with his friends. All of these scenarios should be part of one cohesive storyline, however, Greg goes in and out of each of these settings as if they are separate short films clumsily stuck together to make one complete movie. Greg should also be an essential part of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but his character feels like a supporting player fighting for a place to shine. Greg's friends seem like afterthoughts and we hardly see them as a part of Greg's life in or out of school. It would've been nice to see these friendships develop into a closer bond; maybe this was fleshed out in the first flick, however it was completely abandoned in the sequel. Greg's crush, Holly Hills was an empty vessel who really wasn't fleshed out enough to be a complete character. We don't know who she is nor if it's possible for her to like Greg. Even when she opens up to Greg about her older sister picking on her just as Rodrick does Greg, it seems forced and the whole scene just didn't ring true.
The award for the most likeable character goes to Greg's friend Rowley (Robert Capron, The Sorcerer's Apprentice), he's more than just the stereotypical fat friend; this kid is comfortable in his own skin and has more integrity than any member of the Heffley family. I don't think his character was written to be the standard bearer for the whole movie, but he came off as one of the few interesting people in the entire picture.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules was filmed in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with the audio in Dobly Digital 5.1. Nothing wrong with the either, the movie has problems that couldn't be solved by merely the film or audio qualities.
Special features include two very short segments highlighting Greg and Rowley's summer vacations, audio commentary from the director and the author of the Wimpy Kid books, the theatrical trailer and a few movie sneak peaks. Curiously enough there was no behind the scenes look at the filming of this movie, hmm.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The acting was decent and I'm sure these kids have some kind of future in the movie business, but maybe they should just leave this one off the resume. And Steve Zahn…my word, what has happened? I've enjoyed him in many a movie but here he was absolutely useless, his talents completely underutilized, as he traipsed around the whole time like some kind of mindless eunuch. However, with all of the abject silliness in this movie, I can understand why a kid would enjoy it. Complete and utter chaos running rampant will appeal to a young mind full of mush.
I know what you're saying, "It's a kid's movie, you're expecting too much." Since most parents watch these movies right along side their kids, it is important that the films made for their little crumb crunchers don't put the adults into a coma. We too should enjoy the experience so that we don't avoid spending that time with our kids as they sit and watch their favorite movies. What I was hoping for with Rodrick Rules, was that it would be as good as the 2007 movie Nancy Drew—a kids movie which was smart, cute and quirky, with likeable characters that you could root for and an interesting story line. No one in Roderick Rules was worth any effort to cheer or jeer for. And as a mom, I watched this movie mother not just make mistakes as parents invariably do, she made decisions that would cause a normal person to wonder if she had the capacity to take care of minor children. Not just the 'mom bucks' idiocy, but her belief that her children lying to her was alright because they did it as a team. And like most movies do today, they relegated the adult male to little more than a moron who was just slightly more mature than the kids in his charge. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules had the kernels of a good idea but it took them and crushed them beyond recognition.
A definite Guilty verdict from me for unnecessary lameness. From my kids, however, a big fat Not Guilty, but what do they know.
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