Grade: B: 'Wimpy Kid' follows spirit of the book
Why "Diary of a Wimpy Kid?" Because you're never too old for a good booger joke.
Jeff Kinney's irreverent illustrated diary about one tween's nightmare middle-school experience comes to the big screen with all its boogers, bullies, bad decisions and maybe a few more trips to the toilet than you'll remember.
Zachary Gordon brings a bubbly, confused cockiness to Kinney's alter-ego, Greg Heffley, a shrimp who starts middle school with delusions of being popular, successful, a "class favorite." He narrates his experiences with illustrations (animated in the film) in his diary.
"It's a JOURNAL, not a diary!"
He tries to change and then shake his too-nerdy/too-childish best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) and avoids the girl who beat him up and the girl who wants him to join the school newspaper (Chlöe Moretz, tarted up). And he ignores the advice of his comically abusive older brother (Devon Bostick, perfect).
"Don't talk to anyone. Don't look at anyone. Don't choose the wrong locker. Don't ..."
The director of "Hotel for Dogs" and four screenwriters follow Greg through a year of Halloween mishaps, snow day accidents, class play fiascoes and trying not to touch "the cheese" — a Swiss slice that has sat on the playground for years, growing moldier and more legendary by the day.
Kinney's wry books, blessed with the profundity of hindsight, carry the message that the stuff kids sweat about those tween years is mostly nonsense blown way out of proportion, and the movie retains that. A message about the friend you're "too cool" for actually being better than you deserve is sweet.
But the filmmakers miss their chances to score comic points with the adult cast. Steve Zahn, playing the semi-hapless dad, is the only funny "name" in the bunch.
Plainly they put the time and money into casting the kids, which for the most part pays off. Only Moretz ("(500) Days of Summer") seems out of place in a movie where boys aren't yet noticing girls, and vice versa.
Crass, gross and juvenile in all the best (and worst) ways, "Diary" is aimed squarely at a tween "don't touch the cheese" demographic. And if you don't get it, maybe you're just too old for a good booger joke.
Rating: PG for rude humor, language. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Theaters: Barton Creek, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Gateway, Highland, Lakeline, Starplex, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Tinseltown South.