The responsible film guardian will feel anxious early on in the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid instalment as the title milksop is humiliated a dozen or so times in the opening sequence, a family trip to a roller-skating rink.
First, middle-school student Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is forced to recall a scalding public embarrassment – peers shrieking at his eye-patch-sized swimsuit at a pool. Then he's cowering in a washroom stall, bound in toilet paper. After that, he's tricked into eating pizza someone sat on. Next comes a bungled attempt at dancing with a cool, towering blonde.
Finally, the 12-year-old gets the old vaudeville kiss-off – a pastry in the kisser. He slips and falls in someone's birthday cake.
And so questions begin to form in the responsible film guardian's mind: Do I really want the little guy beside me here contemplating endless variations of public shame? Can this really be good for us?
Pretty soon, though, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, a sequel to the 2010 hit based on Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid book series, begins pointing the finger of scorn at Greg's responsible, excruciatingly prudent caregivers:
Greg's mother, it turns out, is an overbearing liberal, a newspaper columnist who strongly believes in Big Family handouts. Susan Heffley (Rachael Harris) even carries "mom dollars" that are dispensed to her kids whenever Greg and older brother Rodrick appear to be getting along. These vouchers can later be exchanged for real money.
Dad would prefer to be paid in silent neglect. Frank Heffley (Steve Zahn) just wants to be left alone to play with his Civil War armies in the basement. ("They're not toys, they're figurines!") Greg's primary tormentor, Rodrick (Toronto's Devon Bostick) is also seen in a satirical light. He's no better than Greg with girls. Big brother is also dyslexic. The name of the 16-year-old's band is Löded Diper.
Once it becomes clear that the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid is an equal-opportunity offender, and that it is the politically correct modern family that is being picked on, rather than young Greg, the film becomes cheerfully mischievous fun for everyone.
One giddy scene here has Greg's best friend, the hopelessly honest Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) coming over for a sleepover. Rowley's dad hands the boy over with a DVD of the good-for-young-minds kid show Soft Bears. Aaaah. The boys go upstairs to Greg's room. Soon, mom shows up with a plate of good-for-young-bodies broccoli spears. Mmm-mmm.
And when the door slams shut, with mom safely gone, Greg whips out a horror movie featuring a big-bosomed starlet – that and a Santa's-bag-sized haul of salty snacks.
The plot to Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is a see-sawing feud between Greg and Rodrick that is resolved at their hometown's annual talent show. But all of that, including a big production number finale, is simply an excuse for all the Heffleys to get on and off each other's nerves.
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series might more aptly be titled Diary of a Wimpy Family.. The film sequel is more engaging than the original was because it spends more time at home. That makes sense. A kid dealing with a mad mom offers more comic and dramatic potential than the same child tiptoeing around a deranged gym teacher.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
- Directed by David Bowers
- Written by Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs
- Starring Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Robert Capron and Steve Zahn
- Classification: G
Special to The Globe and Mail