Diary of a Wimpy Kid is already moving into the territory of overly familiar, predictable cliches, the stuff movies like this rely on to generate a little time killing. Moms awkwardly dancing, dad dealing with his figurine collection, skating rinks where a roller derby suddenly takes place over the top of 7th graders. You know, the usual.
Rodrick Rules makes the crucial error of taking the focus away from the kids. In this follow-up, mom and dad have more screen time along with the titled brother. With that, goes the charm. Child-like wonder and conflict are tossed out of the window for forced conflict and narrative issues. The first film was a little more free flowing, ignoring the need to really do anything other than put the life of a sixth grader on screen. Kids could relate, adults would remember. It worked.
Here, there’s a girl, Greg (Zachary Gordon) now to the point where he notices Holly (Peyton List), giving him something to do outside of looking at moldy cheese on the ground. It’s a sign that he’s getting a little older, a small change to a character that instantly shows his growth between films.
Then, the brother steps in, Rodrick (Devon Bostwick) forced to endure his little brother at the will of their mother. Rodrick is gunning for a spot in the talent show with his band, another somewhat muddled goal for these characters to take part in. It feels like there’s too much purpose this time, those quirky little interludes like the kids at school pretending Chirag (Karan Brar) is invisible the type of spark Rodrick Rules needs more of.
The sequel begins to lose that viewpoint, crucial to the success of the first, everything exaggerated enough that is appears with some wonder and a little confusion. That works when the story, or what little of one exists, focuses on Greg. This is his world. When it moves away from him, say dueling awkward dinners with work associates or a burned out band member, it feels kooky and weird. The intentional overacting and eccentric facial expressions from Steve Zahn begin to look out of place. It’s not supposed to be natural, but it also shouldn’t break the illusion. The latter is the critical mistake of Rodrick Rules, leaving it an enjoyable sequel effort with only half of the charm.
Rodrick carries an unmistakable, thick grain structure, certainly something you can’t miss. Fox’s AVC encode battles it out and comes out clean, keeping it firm, distinct, but never compressed. It spikes too, noticeable along wall trimmings, computer screens, the hi-def home transition making it apparent, yet never distracting.
Grain or no grain, Rodrick is a slickly detailed production, a little rough around the edges when it comes to complex exteriors like the home, while otherwise pleasing to the visual sense. Facial detail is given a little extra heft with the grain, making it appear somewhat more textured than it likely is. There’s no question it does appear, medium shots and close-ups pleasingly rendered. Environments are equally rich, the kid’s rooms featuring scattered toys, posters, and other knick-knacks, all presented with loving detail and sharpness.
For the younger set, the digital intermediate cranks things up, producing some blistering saturation as far as primaries go, and flesh tones that make even some of kids appear like they’ve come out of a tanning booth. The palette is warm and inviting even if it takes skin with it, giving the film a pleasing veneer.
Contrast pops and the black levels are superior. A movie-within-a-movie is set in a dark mansion, so dark not a lick of shadow detail can escape. The rest is under control and richly dimensional, scenes are night given the same attention as those during the day. Rodrick never loses its luster.
There’s not much going on sonically in this sequel, the DTS-HD track of course sufficient with its supreme fidelity and clarity. The mix presents ambiance where needed, the opening roller rink episode blaring music, screaming kids, and other noise in the surrounds, while natural dialogue resides in the center. There’s a party about 30-minutes in, the sub getting a little work from the music, and the ambiance from the guests is equal to what came prior.
The finale at the talent show is the last chance this one has to offer something, some ear-splitting metal enough to drive you crazy, but it’s also loud, precise, and fidelity is sublime. The same goes for a singing solo piece a bit earlier, the center producing bold lyrics. It’s not enough to give the movie some audio punch throughout the entire running time, but generally active with enough of an impact when its called for.
This review is based off a rental copy since the studio does not provide screeners in time for release. As such, there are no extras.