One of the points where film bloggers are often said to hold an advantage over print critics is our privilege of selection: not being obliged to write about any specific film or subject, we can focus only on topics that are interesting enough to deserve it. This is a lovely notion as far as it goes, but there are points where even this freedom runs up against the wall of whatever rules govern the blogger and his writing. Such as, for example, if the blogger has promised in public to review every fucking goddamn motherfucking movie that goes to fucking #1 at the weekend fucking box office, and if he only breaks this promise in moments of particular necessity, wherein "Christ, I do not want to see that" doesn't count as necessity.

Did I share that notion in part so I could say "fucking" four times in the lead paragraph of a review for a kids' movie? I will not say that's not the case. Also, I'm having a wretchedly hard time coming up with anything else worth talking about in connection to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, about which it is hard to have any opinion more energetic than "mostly painless". It's a kid's film - not the same as a family film - wherein, if I had a child, and that child was an enthusiastic fan of the movie, I would not have any problem with allowing it to watch the movie all the time, though I would undoubtedly be disappointed that cinephilia isn't a genetic trait. It's in no real way a bad film, though in a few ways it is a damned odd film; and I am tempted to give it bonus points for failing to be anti-intelligent in an era when studio-made children's entertainment is likely as not to be grating, obnoxious, scatological, and noisy enough to enduce catatonia. What does it say about culture when we're reduced to praising kiddie movies for being anodyne? But that is a musty old rant of mine, and I will not bore you by trotting it out again.

Rodrick Rules is the rushed sequel to last spring's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but from context clues I gather it was the story of put-upon middle child Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) and the terrible things that happened to him over the course of sixth grade. Its sequel, at any rate, is the story of the terrible things that happen to him over the course of seventh grade, with special attention paid to his strained relationship with older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), marked by mutual animosity and lopsided acts of humiliation and aggression whereby Rodrick asserts his alpha male dominance by ensuring that Greg will never, ever get laid. Not that 12-year-olds getting laid is exactly on the ticket of items discussed openly during Rodrick Rules, but the secondary plot concerns Greg's attempt to impress new girl Holly Hills (Peyton List), and how Rodrick inadvertently or deliberately fucks that up, and there's only so many times director David Bowers can cut to a close-up of the young actress that's visibly straining not to sexualise her too much for the PG rating (and basic human decency) before the slightest whisper of something marginally less sterile manages to creep into the film. At any rate, Bowers and screenwriters Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah will forever have a place in my heart for managing to smuggle an erection joke* into a movie whose sole purpose in life is to entertain tweens for long enough that they'll pay to see the next sequel.

Egged on by their parents (Rachel Harris, doing a sub-par Tina Fey impersonation and Steve Zahn, in a light, giddy performance that is absolutely the sole carrot for parents), the two siblings learn over the course of various fights and falling-outs and "I will kill you in your sleep"-s that they really do need each other, and it's okay to sometimes be really mad at your brother, but that will pass; a tale of aching predictability and you have seen it before and probably told better than this. But Rodrick Rules wasn't made for you - I desperately hope it's not, anyway, given the number of times I've said "fuck" in this review† - and for the people who it was made for, people who are around 8-10 years old right at this moment in time (the film is not likely to become a classic of future generations, though my understanding is that the well-liked book series it's based upon might), it tells that story decently well, with honest human emotion underneath it, and a performance by Gordon that manages to keep the story's eccentricities from going off into orbit (Bostick's performance is better yet; I can imagine him having something akin to a decent career, though not the sort likely to ever include statements like "Bostick is overdue for his second Oscar").

It's good enough that I regret, fiercely, that it's buried beneath so much detritus: Greg's unfortunate caricatured friends and classmates - it's never to early to start teaching kids that fat people are morons, Indians are tiny and have funny accents, opinionated women are evil, and the ugly are contemptuous and filthy! - keep dragging things down into overly-broad comedy, while the mechanical repetition with which Greg is subject to increasingly uncomfortable humiliations - a protracted sequence in which a 12-year-old wearing only underpants is attacked by a group of elderly women belongs in a surrealistic David Lynch knock-off, not a children's comedy - continually threatens to push Rodrick Rules into the adult world of cringe humor, a cynical and nasty-minded place that I am not at all eager to see in kid's movies, but as long as young people continue to find bodily function jokes riotous - and they are plentiful here - young people will continue to respond to movies that use those as excuses to emotionally traumatise the protagonist. Happily, a few of them will grow out of it.

I'm not going to overstate my case, though. Rodrick Rules is hardly theater of cruelty, it's just a slightly dumb, marginally slapsticky comedy that will bore anybody older than the main characters to tears, while sneaking a decent enough life lesson for the target audience. It's largely charmless, though the animated interstitials (a visualisation of the books' illustrations) are bright and playful; a lot of the details are pitched at some median level between child and adult, hitting no-one (the use of one-off '70s hit "Magic", by Pilot, during a roller rink scene is a particular striking "joke" that I cannot imagine anyone finding funny), and it certainly isn't stimulating in any meaningful way; but it's not rotten to the core, and if that's what it takes for a kid's movie to stand out in the current marketplace, then so be it. Ultimately, it's not mine to form an opinion about it, even though I just wasted over 1000 words doing just that.

5/10