Young seventh grader Greg has a major thorn in his side in the form of older brother Rodrick. He insists on perpetually torturing his younger sibling, be it in front of his friends, the girl he has an eye on, or the whole school and community (the opening skating rink incident, partially instigated by Rodrick, is a particularly cruel blow to Greg’s social standing). The two are at complete loggerheads and not even a incentive their exasperated mother (Ed Helm’s nauseating girlfriend from the Hangover, Rachael Harris) devises called “Mom Bucks” (a monetary reward for being nice to each other, which they can trade in for real money, and which Rodrick predictably and humorously exploits) can bring them together.
A breakthrough occurs when the Rodrick organises a party whilst their parents are out of town, and both he and Greg bond as they are forced to frantically clean up the house the following morning when the trip is cut short. Rodrick becomes a mentor (of sorts) to his younger brother in how to avoid chores and responsibilities imposed by parents. All appears to be going swimmingly well until their father (a likeable and warm performance by Steve Zahn) discovers evidence of the party, and it’s soon back to the same sibling battles and one-upmanship as before.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules is normally the type of kids feature which comes with a parental warning from critics that there much clock-watching will be involved while the kids are having the times of their lives. That’s not the case here, however. Director David Bowers (making his live-action debut, having work on a number of high-profile animated features over the years) has clearly taken what he’s learned from that environment and has sculpted a fun, well-paced film which will hold the attention of both adults and children during its admittedly long 101 minutes running time.
A strong cast also helps to ensure it never flags. As Greg, Zachary Gordon turns in a winning performance, which is virtually free of those usual annoying precocious quirks which seem to be a prerequisite for child performers. Devon Bostick is also fun as Rodrick, who aside from tormenting his brother is also the “brains” behind an atrocious nu-metal band, whose hilarious moniker, Löded Diper, is further proof that the makers are also keen on catering for an older, knowing audience.
The warring sibling rivalry will be instantly recognisable too for anyone who has ever grown up in that environment, and Greg’s exasperation when his younger, baby brother (who was presumably created to boost the “awwwww” quota in the film) is looked upon in such a saintly way by his Mum, represents a very real and relatable childhood frustration.
A couple of moments go for more overtly children laughs and humour (there’s a weird and ill-conceived scene which occurs in the female toilets in the old-folks home which Greg’s grandfather is a resident of) but the film is often very funny, and the comedic Malcolm in the Middle-esque fantasy interludes sprinkled throughout work well too. There’s a wonderful little visual nod to the original source material at the beginning as well, where all the family are introduced as animated sketch-like images, before they morph into a human form.
This probably won’t be the first port of call for a twenty-something, child-free couple who are heading out to the local multiplex, but if you do have kids and you’re looking for a film to entertain both parties, you can’t go wrong with this one really.