GENRE: Coming of age story with gross-out gags
THE PITCH: Undersized, wisecracking sixth-grader Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) navigates the treacherous terrain of middle school popularity and increasingly views his husky, infantile best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) as a liability.
MONEY SHOTS: The animated titles amusingly imitate the cartoons of the original book. A hyperbolic, folk-tale montage describes the school’s cooties-like obsession called the Cheese Touch. A brawl between Dorothy and the talking apple trees literally stops the show during the middle school play. At a school dance, Rowley and his mom do a choreographed version of the Robot to the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.”
BEST LINE: “Maybe I can fix him, because that’s the kind of friend I am,” Greg says of Rowley, oblivious of how crappy such conditional friendship really is.
WORST LINES: Any of the words of wisdom from Angie (Kick-Ass’ Chloë Grace Moretz), a hip, wise seventh-grader (not in the original book) who periodically pops in to offer Greg advice on being true to himself and other bromides.
FLESH FACTOR: Greg, Rowley and their wimpy classmates are forced to play “shirts” to the more athletic boys as “skins.” Greg’s older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) frequently appears shirtless.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Rowley’s questionable wardrobe choices include sweater vests, Christmas sweaters, sandals with socks, T-shirts with photos of his mom and/or best friend, and even a serape. Flags and reflectors festoon Rowley’s Halloween costume so he’ll be visible in the dark. The pals join the safety patrol and wear vests, sashes and hardhats like highway workers. The school wrestlers – including Greg’s female nemesis, Patty (Laine MacNeil) – wear red uniforms like 19th-century one-piece bathing suits.
GROSS-OUT: The film features lots of bathroom-related humor, including Greg peeing on his bullying brother and his horror that the school’s boys room has no stalls on the doors. The close-up of a big, brown booger proves far more sickening than the recurring glimpses of a rotting slice of cheese (which is too fakey to genuinely nauseate). Ubergeek Fregley (Grayson Russell) shows off his “secret freckle” with its protruding hair.
OVER THEIR HEADS? Actual young people in the audience may not appreciate the fake, 1980s-era motivational film “It’s Awesome To Be Me.” Parents are also more likely to be amused by the scene in which the music teacher forces auditioning kids to sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Greg imagines himself as a celebrity on the covers of TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly and GQ, which features the headline “Greg Heffley Is Here! Hide Your Daughters.”
BETTER THAN THE BOOK? No. The film retains many of the prankish episodes and the unflattering aspects of Greg’s character, but the deadpan candor of Jeff Kinney’s books doesn’t really fit film’s live-action caricatures. (Also, it leaves out my favorite joke: the way Fregley expresses his need to go to the bathroom by dancing in place and crying “Juice! Juice!”)
THE BOTTOM LINE: Diary of a Wimpy Kid begins with snarky attitude and snappy lines, but Hotel for Dogs director Thor Freudenthal can’t really sustain the comedic momentum, and it turns into an uneasy mix of “Malcolm in the Middle’s” exaggeration and Judy Blume’s life lessons. Nevertheless, Capron’s hilarious performance suggests he’ll be the Most Likely to Succeed.
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