Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

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I don’t want to talk about “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” which is inane and exasperating and hard to watch, so let’s discuss the behind-the-scenes scandal instead!

The scandal — which might be a product of my imagination — is as follows. This sequel is directed by David Bowers, who previously made the animated films “Flushed Away” and “Astro Boy.” But the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” from last year, was directed by “Hotel for Dogs” auteur Thor Freudenthal. The writers, producers, and cast members all returned for the sequel. So why didn’t Freudenthal?? What kind of backstage drama made him choose to leave a budding, potentially lucrative franchise? Or, if you prefer, what did he do to make the studio get rid of him?? Yes! I prefer that! What awful thing happened on the set?? The mind reels at the possibilities!

Ah, that was fun. It’s nice to imagine things, isn’t it? Now back to the matter at hand, which is this movie, which I have no use for. If your tween boys enjoyed the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movie (unseen by me), they will probably also enjoy the sequel — that is, unless they have since grown too smart for cheap, unambitious comedies that seek easy laughs through contrived sitcom devices. I know it’s only been 12 months, but a lot can happen in a year. Look at the whole Freudenthal/Bowers feud, for example!

Titular wimp Greg (Zachary Gordon), now in seventh grade, continues to be tormented by his brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who is in high school. Their clueless, embarrassing mother (Rachael Harris) comes up with numerous stupid methods to help them get along, while their father (Steve Zahn, bless his soul) tries as much as possible to not be in the movie.

One of the punishments Mom devises is to leave Greg and Rodrick home alone while she and Dad take the 3-year-old to the water park for the weekend. As you know, there’s nothing adolescent boys hate more than being left unsupervised for two days. Naturally, they throw a house party, and I love the PG version of what a wild teenage party looks like: kids drinking Coca-Cola out of red plastic cups, forming a conga line, eating pretzels in the living room, etc.

While the purpose of the first film was apparently to explore the degradations of middle school, this one is more focused on Greg’s adversarial relationship with Rodrick. The scenes at school feel especially obligatory and pointless. Greg gets everyone to pretend that nerdy Chirag (Karan Barr) is invisible. Greg has a crush on a cute new girl (Peyton List) but keeps humiliating himself in front of her. Greg and his fat sidekick Rowley (Robert Capron) want to become YouTube sensations. I suspect these episodic diversions play out better in Jeff Kinney’s series of books. On the big screen, brought to life with so little humor or creativity, they’re just feel tedious.

I’m intrigued by the movie’s depiction of a 12-year-old boy’s life. The problems Greg faces are straight out of nightmares: sitting on chocolate so it looks like he pooped his pants, accidentally going into the women’s bathroom, that sort of thing. Yet these situations are, without fail, exaggerated so far beyond the realm of normal, recognizable behavior that the humor is lost. Your mom doing an embarrassing dance while your brother’s band performs at a talent show is an idea any kid can relate to. But Greg’s mom continues to dance for several minutes, oblivious to the fact that she has boogied her way out of the wings, where no one would see her, and on to the stage, in full view of the audience — something it would be impossible for her not to realize. We’ve all had panicky thoughts of being caught outdoors in our underwear. But when it happens to Greg, at his grandfather’s retirement community, Rodrick pops in a videotape and records the whole thing from the building’s security cameras — not impossible, maybe, but certainly a stretch.

Also intriguing is the movie’s unintended subtext. Greg hates being on the low end of the social ladder. Why he’s there isn’t explained — he isn’t geeky or ugly or obese or any of the other things that usually lead to middle-school ostracism — but OK, we’ll accept that that’s his station. Yet his response, at every turn, is to seek the humiliation of someone who’s even lower than he is. In other words, Greg (the hero) acts just like Rodrick (the villain), and the movie has no idea it’s happening. Greg’s actions are always portrayed as harmless mischief and merriment, while Rodrick is cast as a jerk — even when they’re doing the exact same thing. I guess the message is that even if you’re a wimpy kid, there’s always someone wimpier than you. So don’t let them hold you down, Thor Freudenthal! Show them who’s boss!!

D+ (1 hr., 36 min.; PG, some rude humor.)

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