March 30, 2011


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Not Even For Free

It was a feel-good story last weekend when the expensive shambles called Sucker Punch went down, defeated by the relatively low-budget family comedy DIARY OF A WIMPY KIDRODRICK RULES.  (Mitch Metcalf’s weekend boxoffice roundup is here.)  The story would have been better, though, if Wimpy 2 were any good.

The new film is, of course, a sequel to last year’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, based on Jeff Kinney’s series of bestselling children’s books.  Wimpy did well enough ($75M worldwide on a $20M pre-marketing budget–although less than $12M of that was outside the US) to compel another entry, and this one confirms that the series is a genuine franchise for Fox as long as they keep the budgets low.
I’m describing the movie as though it’s merely a piece of business–but that’s because it’s the way the picture has been made.  Directed by David Bowers in his live-action debut (he had previously directed the cartoons Astro Boy and Flushed Away), and written by TV veterans Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, the film feels like a tired sitcom from 1987.  Our hero is Greg (Zachary Gordon), whose parents (the utterly wasted Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn) are clueless to the point of emotional dissociation, whose younger brother (played by twins) is hopelessly spoiled, and whose older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) amuses himself with sadistic torments.  The plot, such as it is, has Greg with his first crush (naturally on an angelically blond girl played by Peyton List), while he tries to endure life with his family.  Spoiler Alert, folks, but will you be shocked if I tell you that Rodrick doesn’t turn out to be such a bad guy after all, and that the cute blonde girl really likes Greg?  And that along the way, we get an assortment of mild bodily function humor?

The only thing even mildly distinctive about the Wimpy Kid movies is the fact that Greg’s diary includes cartoon drawings of the people in his life, and they occasionally come briefly to life.  But there’s no attempt to do any more with the animation than the first film did, despite the fact that they hired an animation guy to direct the sequel.  Live action makes up the vast bulk of the movie, and it’s shockingly over-lit and ugly to watch, considering that the cinematographer is Jack N Green, who did lovely work for Clint Eastwood on films like Unforgiven and Bridges of Madison County.  The rote editing by Troy Takaki is less surprising, given that his recent credits include The Bounty Hunter and Fool’s Gold.
Of course, the target audience for this stuff could care less about the subtleties of cinematography and editing; as long as a comedy provides some poop and vomit jokes, and a story where everyone gets what’s coming to them, they’ll eat their popcorn and laugh when prompted.  It’s just a little sad, in an era of Pixar and Rango, where “family entertainment” can be as smart and textured as any other kind, to see young audiences treated as though they have no taste.  Of course, it prepares them for later years when they’ll discover that older audiences are often treated the same way.
(DIARY OF A WIMPY KID:  RODRICK RULES – 20th Century Fox – PG – 99 min. – Director:  David Bowers – Script:  Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah, based on the novels by Jeff Kinney – Cast:  Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn, Peyton List – Wide Release)
–Mitch Salem

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."