[Screen It]

(2011) (Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick) (PG)
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Comedy: A seventh grader must deal with his older brother tormenting him, all while trying to catch the eye of the new girl at school in this second installment of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series.
Things seem to be looking up for Greg Heffley (ZACHARY GORDON) and his friends Rowley Jefferson (ROBERT CAPRON) and Chirag Gupta (KARAN BRAR). After all, they're now starting the seventh grade and thus no longer are the youngest and smallest kids in school, although goofy Fregley (GRAYSON RUSSELL) doesn't make their class proud, while Patty (LAINE MacNEIL) is still Greg's arch-nemesis. But his attention has zeroed in on Holly Hills (PEYTON LIST), the new girl in school and he's set his sights on her, despite the likes of Chirag and Greg's older brother, Rodrick (DEVON BOSTICK), saying she won't be interested in his kind.

That's not unusual, however, for Rodrick, who's regularly tormented his younger sibling for years, with their parents, Susan (RACHAEL HARRIS) and Frank (STEVE ZAHN), just wishing they'd get along, all while the boys' 3-year-old brother, Manny (CONNOR & OWEN FIELDING), watches all of the antics. Rodrick's in a garage band known as Loded Diper, and he's just convinced guitarist Bill (FRAN KRANZ) to join the group, much to the concern of the adult Heffleys.

As he pursues that and performing in the town's talent show, Greg does what he can to deal with his older brother's behavior toward him, all while hanging out with Rowley and hoping to impress Holly however he can.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I've always been amazed how quickly TV shows can crank out episodes -- even of the one hour variety -- while most movies -- that are usually only twice as long in running time -- can take many years to hit the big screen. Granted, for some of the latter, it's all of the post-production work that often adds a lot of time, plus the fact that the cast has to be assembled from scratch, at least for original films. Even so, with many a TV drama essentially being half a movie, it's remarkable that the better ones can be cranked out in a comparatively higher volume than their cinematic counterparts.

Of course, if there aren't many effects and the stars (literal and metaphorical) line up just right, some movies can be mass produced in a fairly quick fashion. Case in point is "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules." The second film based on the popular children's novel series by Jeff Kinney, this offering arrives on the screen less than one year (by a week) after the original installment.

In my review for that 2010 film (that grossed a respectable $64 million domestically), I stated that the series could "quite likely end up as a TV series in which its episodic and kid friendly nature would seem to be a perfect fit." It's yet to be seen if that will ever come to fruition, but the pic does feel like the follow-up to a TV show's pilot episode, where both the cast and audience feel comfortable with the arrangement and related trappings.

Save for a few supporting characters, most of the initial performers have returned to reprise their roles, while director David Bowers ("Astro Boy," "Flushed Away") has taken over the reins from Thor Freudenthal in the director's seat and Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs are the returning writers from the initial quartet of scribes.

With the premise already established and the characters introduced the last time around, the filmmakers and cast set out to continue playing off both, much like any TV series would do. Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), his best friend Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) and others have "graduated" to the seventh grade and thus feel a bit more at ease in both their school (no longer being the new kids on the block) as well as their young adolescent skins than in the first film.

Yet, while many scenes do take place at school, more focus is placed on the fact that Greg must still contend with his brother, Rodrick (a fun Devon Bostick), picking on him while also exuding other such older sibling behavior. Like before, there are decent laughs to be had, and Bowers continues the tradition of injecting cartoon segments (taken from or inspired by the artwork in the original books) as asides to the live action along with other fantasy moments (the best, at least for baby boomer viewers, is a fun riff on "The Partridge Family").

And, like before, it's all very episodic and fragmented, with the strong likelihood that any number of scenes could have been switched with others without any real noticeable effect on the overall film and its storytelling. Sure, there's a running bit about Greg wanting to impress the new girl at school (Peyton List), but beyond that and the general gist of having to deal with an older brother and an upcoming talent show in the town, there really isn't a great deal of plot to keep moving the story forward with any sort of growing momentum.

Even so, and as was the case with the first film, there are enough funny and entertaining moments (including from Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn as the flustered parents) to lift this offering above those and other not particularly troubling issues. It's nothing tremendous (and now pales to the far wittier "Modern Family" on TV, albeit that one skews older), but kids and parents alike will probably find it enjoyable enough, especially if they liked the first film. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" is on par with the first offering and thus rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed March 22, 2011 / Posted March 25, 2011

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