A youth-centered franchise without superheroes, magic or vampires is a rare thing these days, which imbues the otherwise rudimentary "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" with a strange kind of 'burb-bound, kid-powered charm.
Hot on the heels of last year's first movie foray into Jeff Kinney's rabidly popular book series, the sequel dives headfirst into the turbulent dynamic between hapless, undersized tween diary-keeper Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) and his too-cool-for-school older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who seems to tolerate Greg only when torturing him. (Or, we should say, CIA-euphemistically, using enhanced humiliation techniques).
This is unfailingly modest comedy fuel for 12-year-olds, adapted by screenwriters Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah with plenty of gross-out humor (chocolate stain, meet seat of Greg's pants), the most threadbare of plots — anchored by Greg's crush on a popular new girl (Peyton List) and rock drummer Rodrick's talent show dreams — and easy-to-swallow life lessons. Director David Bowers keeps things peppy and brightly lighted, but the movie's swiftest pleasures come from moment-seizing cast members: Gordon's cocksure mug melting in the face of indignity, Bostick evoking devilish ennui, Robert Capron's dorky hanger-on Rowley beaming with hopeless naivete, or Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn — as the parents — giving comic spin to their put-upon boy wranglers. Who needs special effects?