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MOVIE REVIEW: Child's play: 'Wimpy Kid' can't engage kids, adults

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (PG)

2 stars out of 4

The movie version of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" offers the same painful lesson as last year's "Where the Wild Things Are" -- even the most elementary and minimalist children's books can be impossible to realize when adapted for the screen.

If your child is enamored with gross-out/bodily-function humor and you're OK with that, this movie will provide 90 or so minutes of minor guffaws and primitive sight gags. There are close-ups of nasal mucus, a hairy mole, well-amplified passages of orifice-based music and half a dozen scenes of extended yellow trickling. If you look real close and wait long enough, you'll get a single usable life-lesson which arrives far too late to do much good.

While it's not the worst thing about it, the movie's title is extremely misleading. About to enter his first year of middle school Greg (Zachary Gordon) is many things, but "wimpy" isn't one of them.

Almost certainly suffering from middle-child syndrome, Greg's biggest concern in life is becoming the most popular kid in his class. This isn't a bad thing per se; many a child aspires to high visibility and adoration. Greg just goes about it the completely wrong way.

Already smaller than those his age, Greg compounds his problems by being selfish, petty, wading-pool shallow and a lying opportunist. He is devoid of a single admirable trait and completely deserves the escalating ostracizing he receives from his classmates. The only one capable of looking beyond Greg's foibles is the fashion-challenged momma's boy Rowley (Robert Capron).

Even though he matches Greg in social ineptness, Rowley makes up for it with an eternally chipper demeanor, an optimistic perspective and an almost dangerous level of blind trust. At first Greg takes Rowley for granted and, about halfway through the movie, pulls a move on him that might earn him a whipping if he were an adult. Rowley rightfully turns his back on Greg, manages to keep his honor and dignity intact and ends up being the true hero of the movie.

Based on the first in a series of books by Jeff Kinney, the script was written by four people, and as is often the result of committee screenwriting, the story is all over the place. Thor Freudenthal's ADD direction is equally scattershot and he approaches the material with the same spastic whimsy he brought to far more enjoyable, but equally lightweight "Hotel for Dogs."

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" also makes clear the often blurred line between children's and family films. Apart from the revelation toward the end of the film by Rowley, there's nothing in the movie that could possibly engage adults, females of any age or young boys old enough to be interested in girls. The movie's miniscule demographic is 7- to 9-year-old boys and they will likely be enthralled.

This movie is the cinematic equivalent of Twinkies and Mountain Dew. They taste good going down, will provide a fleeting rush but provide no sustenance. If you only treat the kids to a theater experience once or twice a month, skip this and wait until next week for "How to Train Your Dragon." It matches "Avatar" in 3-D brilliance and your entire family will walk away from it feeling wowed, moved and probably more enlightened. (Fox)