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Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Rob McEwan/20th Century Fox

Review in a Hurry: In this book-to-film adaptation, Greg Hefley has one goal: To be the most popular boy in his new middle school. But much of the book's cartoony charm gets lost in the conversion to live action, and we're left with a coming-of-age comedy that just feels aged.

The Bigger Picture: Meet Greg Hefley (Zachary Gordon), a small boy with a big mouth. He is about to embark on his first day of middle school. Greg has a (mostly) loving family, a socially awkward but adoring best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), and the ambition of a 21st-century Napoleon. Greg's goal: to be the most popular boy in his class, no matter the cost. Trouble is, every plot that Greg cooks up either backfires horribly, or throws some innocent kid under a bus. 

Meanwhile Greg's weasel-faced older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) keeps Greg motivated at home, mostly via cruel, but tired, pranks.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is based on a children's cartoon book, and a popular one, at that. But as soon as clever line drawings transfer to live action, their adorable quotient tends to drop, particularly when the actor channeling said cartoon is neither clever nor adorable. Child actor Zachary Gordon surely has poise and the confidence needed to anchor a whole movie—just not the charisma or subtlety. Instead, Gordon leans too much on the schticky stage business that so often weighs down young actors. Between that and the fact that Greg spends, easily, 80 percent of the movie behaving like a kid who deserves to be shunned, and you just might get a movie that's unpopular as well.

Ironically, the freshest part of the film appears to be a piece of moldy cheese accidentally discarded in the schoolyard. Children who come into contact with the seething square of doom are labeled as having "cheese touch," an invisible disease curable only by touching another kid. Children at a recent screening loved the moldy cheese; they laughed at very little else.

The 180—A Second Opinion: A few deft jokes and clever sight gags aimed at jaded adults, plus funny supporting actors like Steve Zahn and Karan Brar, elevate the movie enough to make it a passable Netflix option for the whole family.

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