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Movie Review

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

‘Wimpy Kid’ sequel filled with fun boy humor

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By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / March 25, 2011

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Ah, yes, the ebb and flow of young brotherhood. Bitterest of sibling rivals one week; and the next week, buds through and through. In “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,’’ the second movie adapted from Jeff Kinney’s kid-lit phenomenon, that’s the theme the filmmakers actively build up in their usual effort to structure (read: Hollywoodize) the book’s anecdotal storytelling. Fortunately, they also recognize the preaching their audience ultimately wants to hear: the kind that gets disrupted at church when smart-alecky everykid Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) shows up with an unfortunate stain on his Sunday khakis.

An uninspired roller-rink opener stirs some fretting that it’s just going to be the same go-round from the sequel’s returning writers and new director, David Bowers (an animation vet, as hinted by the more prominent doodled snippets here). Greg’s dorky BFF, Rowley (Robert Capron), spouts his “Zoo-wee Mama’’ catchphrase; weird Fregley (Grayson Russell), who’s not even in book two, delivers more gross-outs. But it’s quickly made clear that Greg and friends do have a slightly new attitude — hey, they’re seventh graders now — and the more pressing, wackier issues are at home, between Greg and punky older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick).

Eager to promote a little togetherness, the boys’ mom (Rachael Harris) encourages Rodrick to drive Greg home from school (amusingly, and bruisingly, in the junker Rodrick uses to haul equipment for his garage band, Löded Diper.) She suggests Rodrick give Greg drumming lessons (which go about as expected when the tutor drums for a band called, well, Löded Diper). In the end, what the brothers really bond over is covering up the party Rodrick throws while their parents are away. When the secret inevitably gets out, Mom and Dad (Steve Zahn) get tough, banning Rodrick from the upcoming school talent show — and setting up a memorably cutting line from Bostick, among other bits of surprisingly legit emotional resonance.

The movie toggles between feeling the need to reconcile Greg’s cartoony world with the real one, and blithely, obliviously doing just the opposite. The pivotal, mice-will-play rager at the Heffleys’ is awkwardly, falsely PG, from cola-filled keg cups to Rowley’s conga line. (And then the filmmakers want to toss off a pix-of-shame slide show à la “The Hangover’’!) At the same time, they skillfully tweak a scene from the book in which Greg gets caught in a women’s restroom, placing the joke more squarely on him. Instantly, the scene turns from odd — accused-perv humor can be tricky that way — into the big comic moment Kinney obviously was after.

Credit Bowers and company, finally, for making some good calls about where to follow the leads furnished to them by the book and the first movie, and where to get creative. Why go back to the “cheese touch’’ comedy well when you can spend screen time, say, taking Kinney’s passing reference to a generic horror flick and turning it into . . . “The Foot’’? Cootie jokes or a stinky, reanimated foot in the face — it’s all good fun for the kids.

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: Rodrick Rules Directed by: David Bowers

Written by: Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, based on the book by Jeff Kinney

Starring: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Rachael Harris, and Steve Zahn

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 96 minutes

Rated: PG (mild rude humor and mischief)

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