'Wimpy Kid 2' packs a mildly entertaining punch
Last year's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" was a surprise success.
For one, it didn't sell its audience short by assuming that kids will only laugh at farts or computer-generated rapping animals.
For adults, it offered an oftentimes cringe-inducing trip back to junior high through the imaginative eyes of an everyday, misunderstood "wimpy kid."
Based on the best-selling children's books by Jeff Kinney, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" brings back more of the same, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just sort of uninspired and watered down.
Zachary Gordon ("National Treasure: Book of Secrets") returns as wise-cracking titular character Greg Heffley, now in the seventh grade and already off to a bad start.
His bullying older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick, "Saw VI"), has embarrassed him in front of new girl (and crush) Holly (Peyton List, "27 Dresses"), while best friend Rowley's (Robert Capron, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") newfound fascination with magic only makes matters worse.
But Greg's and Rodrick's mom (Rachael Harris, "The Hangover") is so intent on making the two get along that they're forced to spend time together, which always seems to backfire on Greg - that is, until they must cover for each other after a wild teenage house party.
Greg and Rodrick form an unlikely friendship, as slacker Rodrick teaches him his time-tested methods of avoiding responsibility and pulling practical jokes. Naturally, those also backfire, landing them in an even stickier predicament that could ruin Greg's chances with Holly and doom Rodrick's already struggling garage band, Loded Diper.
Can they put aside their differences long enough to help each other? If you've seen the first film - or any kids' movie that attempts a positive message - you probably already know the answer.
"Rodrick Rules" never pulls any surprises, but its delivery is honest, simple and oftentimes funny. Gordon and Bostick humorously capture the warring brother dynamic, but the film shines brightest when Gordon and Capron's Rowley share the screen - which doesn't happen quite as much this go-round, but strikes kids' movie gold when it does.
And director David Bowers ("Astro Boy") shifts much of the story from middle school (where most of the first film was spent) to Greg's home life, affording plenty of innocuous jokes with his family, including his beleaguered father (Steve Zahn, "Rescue Dawn") and toddler brother Manny (Connor and Owen Fielding).
At times, however, it seems as if Bowers is trying too hard to be inoffensive and, as a result, the film comes across as somewhat bland. Keep in mind, this is middle school we're talking about, a time when everything was offensive in its own juvenile way.
As a result, this sequel lacks the caustic bite of the first - still hitting some high points, but making "Wimpy Kid" a little wimpier than it should be.
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules," rated PG for some mild rude humor and mischief, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 24 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.