Andy Bockelman: Second in ‘Wimpy Kid’ series is almost as strong

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules'

2.5 out of 4 stars

96 minutes

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

Being mobbed and beaten by a gang of grannies while you’re in your tighty-whities isn’t something that any pre-teen boy would want, but when it happens to the young hero of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

With the horrors of sixth grade finally behind him, Greg Hefley (Zachary Gordon) is cautiously optimistic about the new school year.

But, even though he’s gotten in the swing of things in middle school, he’ll never get used to life with his brothers. Contending with 3-year-old Manny (Connor and Owen Fielding) is bad enough, but being around teenager Rodrick (Devon Bostick) has never been worse, with the elder sibling doing everything in his power to keep Greg unhappy.

When their fighting reaches an apex, their mother (Rachael Harris) comes up with “Mom Bucks,” a motivational technique to encourage her sons to get along — in other words, bribery. The program unexpectedly works, though not how she intended, as Rodrick takes his younger brother under his wing, teaching him the finer points of being a slacker.

And, though Greg is pleased to be bonding with his brother for the first time, he can’t help but feel that it’s too good to be true.

Gordon is just as winning the second time around as Greg, who always seems to get the short end of the stick, whether it’s getting an F for handing in Rodrick’s old history paper or walking into church with a chocolate stain on his pants, a mishap resulting in a brawl between the brothers right in the middle of the Communion ceremony.

Bostick is more likable in this sequel as we start to see him as more than an antagonist. Rodrick is just as lazy and obnoxious, creating his own supply of counterfeit Mom Bucks by raiding thrift stores for old Monopoly sets, but once he looks at Greg as something of more value than a wart he can’t get rid of, he finally considers him a friend — or at least a potential roadie for his talentless band Löded Diper, in which he serves as drummer.

Harris and Steve Zahn get more screen time as strict and often embarrassing parents Susan and Frank, worried that their middle boy will pick up his older brother’s worse qualities, a pretty valid concern considering the house party hosted by their sons while the folks are out of town.

But, Rodrick can dish out some good advice, as well, such as making recommendations for Greg about the best way to approach his crush on new girl Holly Hills (Peyton R. List).

With lines like “She’s almost as pretty as my mom,” Robert Capron is no less funny as Greg’s best friend Rowley, though other classmates get their moments, like Fregley (Grayson Russell), who partakes in other people’s ABC gum, or Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar), the victim of an ongoing prank where people pretend that he’s invisible.

The pangs of adolescence are well portrayed in writer Jeff Kinney’s series of young adult novels and the films they have inspired. While the first movie stayed mostly within the school zone, Greg’s home life is under closer scrutiny as the story continues.

With characters that are only the teensiest bit more mature than they were in the original and a mere year in between the two releases, there’s not much progression from the first diary entry.

Fans of the books who found the initial movie a good screen adaptation will have no complaints, although they may take umbrage with the extra attention given to Rodrick in this sequel. Likewise, the overall message of brotherly love feels a little more forced than needed, but at least there’s no danger in an overdose of the warm fuzzies when the climax involves a metal song called “Explöded Diper.”

How did they ever think of such a title?

“Rodrick Rules” is about on par with the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” even if the novelty of seeing Kinney’s note paper sketches interspersed into the plot has worn off. But, with stunts like Greg’s attempt at YouTube immortality by filming Rowley lip-syncing to the music of Ke$ha, it’s still fresh.

Harris’s hilarious lack of self-awareness while busting a move in her own brand of mom dancing helps, too, but don’t tell her how it looks.

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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